Another fabulous read from D J Manly. I know it was released in 2008 but it is probably even more timely in 2012. D J Manly is one of my favourites.
- Review by Kazza K
Well, didn't I just love this book. For lots of reasons. I loved the fact that if you wanted to just have a good, sexy, character driven read you could. If you wanted something deeper, a statement about different lifestyles, social prejudices, and that people can grow and change for the better, well, that's here in spades, too.
First, I want to say that I grew up around a female impersonator, who eventually had gender reassignment surgery. That was quite some time ago, when it was pretty much unheard of. He, now she, loved to impersonate Shirley Bassey, Liza Minelli and Judy Garland, to name a few, and eveyone thought how "darling" it was; much in the same vein that people thought Liberace was not gay, just a "darling" entertainer oh, and, a good son to his mother. It was hard for my trans friend; life could be difficult, and inside - outside he needed to be a woman, in every sense of the word. My friend also needed dignity and respect as a person, not a "freak" or "darling." There was always a nice word for me, some humour, and help with this girls' wardrobe and make-up which was much appreciated. So, needless to say, the brutal death of Michael Fulton in My Father's Lover, and his biological son's attitude towards his father, really upset me. Immensely. I was attached. I cried. I was pissed off. So you know this is going to be a long review :)
Second, I loved looking into the lives of the men in My Father's Lover. They aren't all your straight-gay types. They aren't in it as much as I would like, but they are, and I enjoyed what I got to see. Yes, Anthony and Michael can both pass as straight, and they're the MC's, but there's plenty here who don't (want to), and one who is actually married to a woman but does drag. Much love to the Hollio's of the world. I love it when someone writes characters other than (what seems to be) the required fictional 'type' in M/M books. I love my flouncy types, I love older guys as well. It seems fiction has decreed that there's not many older, and definitely not many, if any, feminine gay guys about, or, if there are, then keep them off page as much as possible, pfft. I like a queen, a wrist flicker, and a make-up wearer. It's called diversity and being fucking real. However, I think I'm atypical, and I understand writers have to sell some books. By the way, I really loved Juan, there wasn't enough of him. Every time he was doing something, saying something I kept thinking Alexis Mateo. When he went to pick Michael (jnr) up from the airport it was OTT camp, and I loved it! Juan did it to show Michael (jnr) a "fag freak," if that's what he thought.
OK, with that out of the way; I must say that the characters and plot of this book are hard to write about in a format that's easy to understand. It actually helps if you've already read the book, which doesn't help if you're deciding, but here goes.
Anthony has two adoptive fathers, Daniel, who found him living on the streets and bought him home when Anthony was 12, he died in a car crash two years ago; and Michael, Daniel's lover, who, at the beginning of this book, has been beaten to death by thugs outside his drag club, Impressions. Prior to this, Anthony came home, after Daniel's death, to make sure he helped out Michael, and grieve. Michael's biological son, also Michael, has shown no interest in his father whatsoever. Michael had reached out to his son over the years, but, unfortunately, a combination of his ex's disdain and his son's bitterness have cemented a null relationship in stone. Now Michael has died and Anthony has to look after the drag club, the staff, who mourn deeply, there's a few crying queens to contend with (xx), his other 'brother', Jason, another adoptee of the two lovers; and deal with Michael's biological son, Michael (jnr). Plus, his best friend, Sandy, wants Anthony to rejoin the band and, in D J Manly style :), plenty of people love Anthony. Having Jason and Sandy, in particular, in love with Anthony just adds to his emotional load at an already difficult time.
Anthony is a very responsible young man who loved both Daniel and Michael, and appreciated everything they did for him. The time he spent on the streets earlier had been unpleasant and abusive, including selling his body to survive. After Daniel and Michael originally brought him under their roof it took Anthony a while to believe they wouldn't beat him, as his father had done, and that they didn't want sex in return. They didn't, they gave him love and somewhere to call home. In return he was the son Daniel never had, and the one that Michael (jnr) couldn't/wouldn't be. Along with being responsible, Anthony is somewhat shut down emotionally, he keeps his emotions firmly in check at pretty much all times. However, he has become quite passionate about finding out who Michael's killers are. Anthony would like to be back in the band with Sandy, but love and respect for Michael, and keeping the club running, have kept him in LA. While many love Anthony, he does not feel like being with anyone, love is complicated in his mind - his mum died, his dad then beat him, john's violated him. He did have an affection for someone, which could never be, and complicated things. He also resents Michael (jnr) for not trying to reciprocate his father's love and being a part of his life; and previous experience has shown that Michael (jnr) can be...abrasive.
So, on to MC number 2, Michael (jnr), who, quite frankly, is a very hard character to like. He is a narrow-minded, rude, selfish, immature prick, with, self inflicted, daddy issues to boot; and that's being kind. He's also gay, but he's a gay homophobe. Yep, it's OK to be gay as long as you're a masculine, straight-acting gay; a sentiment that most definitely does exist (and pisses me off!). Michael (jnr) makes it very clear that he does not intend to come to his biological father's funeral. He does not approve of his father, thinks him a "fag freak,"- because he's a female impersonator. However, in typically greedy, and historically proven poor form, when he's informed he is mentioned in Michael's will, he changes his tune and decides to come to LA; to dip his hand into the cookie jar for anything he can get hold of. So, we can add money grubber to the above list.
The reading of the will stipulates several things - Anthony gets the house, which, apart from being beautiful, holds many memories for him. With his previous inheritance from Daniel, Anthony is well set up. Both Jason and Michael (jnr) can also stay in the house for as long as they choose. Jason and Michael (jnr) have been left trust accounts, that mature when they're 21. Michael (jnr) is 19 and royally pissed that Anthony gets to say how the money is allocated until he's of age. Most surpisingly Michael leaves Impressions to both Anthony, 51%, and Michael (jnr), 49%, and they must both work it for 2 years in order for the inheritance to be binding. The MC's are shocked, but Anthony will not allow the club to be sold and wants to ensure Daniel and Michael's legacy lives on, so he's resigned to work with Michael (jnr) to make sure of this. Obviously, Michael (jnr) now has to work with the "freaks" and is none too happy about this deal. In true Michael (jnr) fashion he does not understand the opportunity presented to him, how wealthy being an owner of Impressions makes him, let alone caring about his father's legacy, or becoming something better.
As they all live in the house together and work together, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, Michael (jnr) often lets Anthony know that he thinks Anthony has been nothing more than "a sex toy for two dirty queens," and, as a relationship (of sorts) develops between the two MC's, he constantly thinks Anthony is fucking Jason, who is keen on Anthony, but Anthony only sees him as a brother. Michael (jnr) also disrespects Daniel and Michael's bedroom. So, Michael (jnr) = quite the arsehole. How the hell is this going to work? You figure the two MC's are going to get together, but arsehole Michael seems like an insurmountable hurdle. Well, there are times when D J Manly shows you that Michael (jnr) is a scared, unsure, insecure, manchild, who has missed time with his father and doesn't know how to deal with this; a by product of his upbringing. You can also see him learning the ropes at Impressions and he does his job. He's starts being accepted more and more by the staff, seeing them less and less as "freaks,"and more and more as people, a step in the right direction. This is aided by viewing home movies his father kept and, after a visit by some of his friends from NY, you can see that he doesn't believe everything he used to. Plus, there is an affection developing between the 2 MC's, apart from Michael (jnr's) Anthony-induced-insta-lust, and some interesting fucking, there is something more taking shape. Michael starts to like his father and what he was, little by little. Don't get me wrong Michael is still difficult until near the end, but that's pretty damn realistic, people do not suddenly change overnight, and Michael's a 'work in progress.' However, over a period of months, after working closely with the people his father loved, who are like a tightknit group/family, there is real growth from Michael (jnr). If you ask can that happen? The answer is - yes, if someone opens their eyes and wants it to, if they challenge and change their beliefs.
The performers that work at the club are wonderfully supportive in that way that people are when faced with discrimination and adversity. Working day-in and day-out with them has a positive effect on Michael (jnr). When clubbing together one night, Hollio's wife, Tracy, has a chat with Michael (jnr) which he discusses later, after digesting it, with Anthony -
"Tracy told me something else." "What's that?" "Well, she said that trying to fit in, by being like everyone else is not acceptance, it's submission. Do you believe that?" "Yeah I do." "I'm beginning to believe it, too. My father was a rebel. He didn't care what people thought of him. He respected himself and he was...beautiful." Michael's gaze searched Anthony's face. "Yes he was," Anthony replied.
What a turn around, finding the positive in his father and questioning the idea of being true to you as opposed to 'fitting in.' There's a lot more to this book and character development but it's taken me forever to write this, so my advice is to give the book a read. I know Michael (jnr) elicited some strong, negative reactions from readers, I get it, BUT, isn't that the role of a good writer? To pull emotions and passion out of the reader about a character - good or bad? Also, Michael's character was a real catalyst for getting some issues out there that need to be voiced and sincerely thought about as a society -
Michael (jnr): "We (gay men) need sex and variety."
Anthony: "Well, talk to those men out there who want to get married. What do you think the fight for equal rights is about, Michael, so that we can fuck strangers every night in a dark room?"
Michael (jnr): "Youth is important in the gay culture, and male beauty.
Anothony: "Oh fuck, spare me. I've been out there. It's okay if that's what you want. That's not what your father and Daniel were about. They loved each other. They were faithful to each other."
I'll finish this review with something that tickled my fancy and summed up the growth of Michael, without giving a spoiler. Read the book and see -
"Why do I feel as if I'm in 'The Crying Game?"' (Anthony) whispered, pressing his lips to (Michael's)neck. "The what?" 'I'll rent it. I knew you didn't get out much."
I'll end this review as I started, Well, didn't I just I love this book.....