Author: Santino Hassell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 3 stars
Received from Publisher
Blurb: A Five Boroughs Story
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.
Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.
When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
Review: Michael Rodriguez has his life largely under control. Kinda. Once his dad steps back into the mix any semblance of control slips from his fingers. Michael feels the need to cancel his vacation to Italy with his best friend, Nunzio, as he doesn’t trust his father and brother to take care of things while he’s gone. Unfortunately, the school year starts and it’s time to go back to work. It’s mostly unexpected when Michael and Nunzio are greeted with a minor demotion. The real shock comes when the guy they had an amazing three way with happens to be in Nunzio’s old teaching position. Awkward. It really doesn’t help Nunzio is jealous and the new guy, David, is sending out a whole bunch of mixed signals. Between work life and home life Michael finds himself taking whatever solace he can find. He finds it at the bottom of a bottle and in Nunzio’s bed. He quickly finds himself losing control of both situations.
I’ve loved Santino Hassell’s books in the past, so I went into this book with pretty high expectations. I wish I had been more able to read this book for itself as my expectations proved quite unfair to the book. In addition to that, I feel this book and I were just not the best fit. I’m easily frustrated with books about substance abuse and boy did this book have that in spades. Michael is the child of an alcoholic and is himself a functional alcoholic. To me, this was written convincingly. Michael is as co-dependent as the day is long, and he seems to have learned all his coping mechanisms from his dad. Things are tough at home? Drink. Drinking doesn’t work? Escape. Nunzio is Michael’s escape hatch for when things get too rough at home. It becomes obvious Nunzio is very invested in the possibility of a relationship with Michael yet Michael is still too much of a disaster to see and accept he’s there, too. I really like that Nunzio never came across as a doormat. Despite not having Nunzio’s POV, he did not feel like a flat character to me. He spent most of his life in love with Michael, but he made Michael work for the relationship.
Many things in this book felt plausible but a little unlikely to me. Michael’s principal was surprisingly strict about some things then waited almost a year to move Michael and Nunzio apart and did so without a letter of reprimand or the advice to contact his union rep? California does not have the strongest teacher’s union, and I have no knowledge of how New York’s works, but I had trouble accepting no one from the union contacted Michael during his downward spiral and subsequent plummet. In addition to that I was confused by Michael not taking his vacation to Italy on the grounds he couldn’t trust his brother Raymond to pay the bills while he was gone. Did Michael’s bank not have a way to do this for him with the click of a few buttons online? And why did Raymond only become unable to pay those bills after their dad moved back home? As much as I love an unreliable narrator, these things added up. I found myself side-eyeing a lot of things. Yes, everything was plausible enough, but I stopped suspending my disbelief and things just felt like plot holes.
For me this was a book very much about escaping the same traps that snared your parents. Michael did a great job of doing their worst all over again as did his brother Raymond. Michael’s problems snapped both boys out of the past and allowed them to see the future. There was an Everyman quality to the tale. This is what generations of dysfunction and addiction have wrought in our families. It also shows us a path to redemption and salvation. The down side to that, for me, was there was nothing about Michael and his family to show me how they were not me and my family. A straight, white woman from rural CA should not be able to relate quite so intensely to this gay, male Nuyorican tale. Familial dysfunction trumped everything else, everything that made Michael an interesting person in his own right.