Desert Isle Keeper
Call him “Uncle Mame.” Former sitcom actor Patrick – who worked under the pseudonym Jack Curtis – is hosting his niece and nephew, food fussy nine-year-old Maisey and lisping six-year-old Grant, on a long vacation in the wake of their mother’s tragic death from a long illness. His attempt at teaching them about the right angles at which to take a selfie and the importance of the movie Grease are interrupted when the kids’ father, Greg, calls and begs Patrick to take the kids for ninety more days while he gets clean of his pill addiction in rehab. Patrick’s been living the life of a single man for a very long time, and his brother’s request feels like a total impossibility.
Nevertheless, Patrick packs the kids off to his home in Palm Springs. Loose teeth, toilet trauma (Grant is convinced Patrick’s is haunted) and a manipulative agent soon intervene. Being around his young niece and nephew forces Patrick to confront how lonely his life has been ever since the love of his life, Joe, died in a car wreck years before. A career revival, the return of Greg, and the possibility of new love all complicate Patrick’s life, and to his surprise, he becomes even more fond of his niece and nephew over time.
The Guncle is terribly sweet and charming. It does occasionally lean into stereotypes a little hard (the selfish actor; the adorable, lisping kid – this book would have gotten an A+ were it not for Grant’s phonetically spelled lisping) but it’s a wonderful story about a man coming back to life and getting back into the swing of things after a long, self-indulgent emotional hibernation.
Maisey, in particular, is a wonderful character; a realistic nine-year-old with a love of YouTube and a sense of rage and befuddlement about this new life. Patrick is one part classic Hollywood divo (his most prized possession is his Golden Globe, which has a special position in his house and yes, ultimately must be rejected as an important object in his life when one of the kids ends up in danger) with a heart of gold and a salty mouth. He’s a lot of fun to follow even though sometimes he can be a bit ridiculous and OTT, seeming to forget that of course little kids won’t pick up on his references.
There’s something very tearjerker movie about the book (which has already been sold for a big-screen adaption) but that doesn’t work against it. Patrick is that lovable – and so are the kids. This simple story about recovering your true self after years of mindless waste and loss will resonate with everyone dealing with the torpor of mid-pandemic dregs. As Patrick shakes them off, so does the reader, and the somehow lighthearted and yet very trenchant tone of the book helps move the pace briskly along.
The Guncle is an easy read and a funny one. Readers are bound to love it; it’s a shaggy dog winner of a story that resonates.