Author: Charlie David
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5 stars
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Chase never had many friends, but at college, he meets and forms close ties with straight jock Tyler Davidson—a connection he fears he’ll lose if he tells Tyler he’s gay. Keeping his sexuality secret becomes harder for Chase as he joins Tyler and his family at their idyllic lake house for the summer. It grows more and more difficult for Chase to avoid Tyler’s attempts to set him up with girls, and he’s tired of making excuses. Chase is ready to embrace the man he is, but he’s afraid of what it will cost him.
The Davidsons seem like the perfect family, but Chase soon realizes there’s trouble in paradise. Tyler’s dad, Nathan, has done everything to make a good life for his wife and children—including suppressing his sexuality and denying his needs for years. But like Chase, Nathan is growing weary of living a lie. What begins as an offer of support from Chase grows into an unexpected attraction that will have profound effects on everyone. Chase and the Davidsons are about to learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect family, but that perfection isn’t a requirement for friendship and love.
Review: Charlie David wrote the screenplay for Mulligans, which was released as a film in 2008. David also starred in Mulligans, and served as an executive producer. Following the success of the film, he expanded the screenplay into a novel. Having seen this excellent film when it was first released (yet acknowledging the nuances had grown hazy in my memory), I jumped at the opportunity to read and review this second edition of the book.
My eagerness was rewarded with a beautifully written story. As the title suggests, it is a story of self-discovery, fragile truths, and potential new beginnings. Mulligans is not a romance, yet ultimately it is a love story — a masterfully woven depiction of love of family, love of friends, love of self.
This story is equal parts charming, uncomfortable, and enlightening. The focus is on choices, reactions, and consequences. Some we see on page, some we do not. I’ll state up front that the ending is rather bittersweet. However, the payoff is a bright infusion of hope and newfound strength.
*This review is going to contain spoilers, no way around it.
Chase and Tyler are both 20 year old college roommates. Fairly opposite personalities and backgrounds did not prevent them from becoming best friends. Tyler invites Chase to spend the summer at his family’s lake house. Spending time with Tyler and his family sounded like a dream come true to Chase. Little did he know that his upcoming, impromptu coming out was about to become the driving force of cataclysmic change in so many lives, including his own.
This story belongs primarily to Nathan and his wife Stacey. They are Tyler’s parents. The author does a superb job allowing the reader to visit their pasts through present interactions. Regrets and current despair are apparent. Nathan has a solid career and is devoted to his family, yet he has a little sense of self. He enjoys playing golf and tinkering with cars, but these are an escape from his reality more than the pursuit of his dreams. Being that he and Stacey became parents at the age of 16, he had never explored his attraction to men. At 36, he is feeling restless, unfulfilled and disenchanted. It was obvious that Nathan did not feel close to his wife. Chase appeared in Nathan’s life at a moment in time when both men were vulnerable. Given the dynamics we learn about in the story, I was sympathetic to Nathan.
Chase is extremely likeable. He comes across as well adjusted – if a bit sheltered — despite a hard knock childhood which included losing his dad, and having an emotionally absent mom. He’s also an aspiring artist and is eager to have an inspiring location to paint. Chase is gay, but he has yet to tell anybody about it. He has yet to act on it. Unlike Tyler, he is not at all experienced sexually. He has grown very close to Tyler, can’t imagine coming out to him, yet one day he chooses to do so. In the meantime, Chase meets Jarod at the lake, another young man who is not out. Chase feels elated when his sexual urges are kindled with Jarod, who seems so nice. Jarod bails when Chase needs him most, leaving Chase bewildered and angry. Afterward, when Chase finds he is alone with Nathan, they experience a heightened awareness of one another, which leads to sex and self- awakening. The reader is shown the spark, the hesitation, the eventual succumbing to attraction. Any actual sex is off page. The sex serves to open the eyes of the characters to bigger truths.
Stacey chose to make her family her entire life and has little sense of self outside of it. She is not unaware of Nathan’s truth, yet she’s done nothing proactive, nothing to help him, or their family, deal with it. She continues to wear a happy face and construct the façade of a “perfect” life until it inevitably disintegrates in front of her. When Nathan and Chase come together, Stacey’s initial reaction to this development seems unfair in light of the long history of emotional distance she has with Nathan. She came across as selfish, where as to me, Nathan did not.
To be fair, both Nathan and Stacey could have broached the elephant in the room sooner. Perhaps Nathan would have eventually, were it not for Chase. Chase naively, yet genuinely believed he was helping Nathan through a rough time. Neither man set out to seduce, but the moment and their connection proved a revelation to each of them. Despite their age difference, they were both experiencing a once in a lifetime, life changing moment together.
The dominos start to fall. Stacey confronts Nathan. Tyler confronts Nathan and Chase. Chase is mortified — he doesn’t want to lose his best friend. Stacey doesn’t want to lose her constructed life. Nathan sees a new life path opening up. Birdy, Tyler’s ten year old sister, is caught up in the fallout, but ultimately proves wiser than the adults. Tyler’s summer girlfriend, as someone who was removed from the immediacy of the situation, ends up offering him a rational viewpoint and sound advice.
The aftermath of Nathan’s secret being out in the open reminded me of a blister being burst. The discomfort had been growing for a long time, but once brought to the surface, healing began. The ending is far from tied up in a bow, but it is full of promise for fresh starts. Nathan, Stacey and Chase – Tyler, Jarod and Birdy too — all faced roads to travel that they hadn’t been down before. I was deeply moved by the closing pages of this story — they are ripe with forgiveness, love, strength, anticipation, and hope.
The potential relationship break-downs people face when confronted with buried truths is not an easy dynamic to explore. There is the risk of clichés, over dramatization, or having someone act completely out of character. David unspools his complex plot effortlessly, while genuinely exploring the actions and reactions of the characters. I was awestruck by the depth and flow of his gorgeous writing, via which his characters navigated some extremely trying situations. Much like Chase’s art, David’s words paint a brilliant, layered, raw, and powerful story.
Not to be missed. And now, I’m off to watch the film again.