A review by Stan Ridge
Fans of Matt Brooks’ Molinari stories, one of which appears in this issue, will find themselves in familiar territory and will relish his new novel, Honeymoon Cottage. He plunks both us and protagonist Dale Parker down in the middle of a large and loving American family that supports its gay sons, brothers, and nephews, and has preserved its ethnic heritage, in this case Hispanic, over many generations. The Duráns have lived in California since it was a Spanish colony, before it came under Mexican rule. Readers unfamiliar with the culture will find themselves, like Dale, somewhat disoriented but definitely charmed, surrounded by a bewildering array of relatives who carry on conversations in rapid-fire Spanish, celebrate holidays in their traditional ways (Christmas without Santa Claus!), and feast on a plethora of a Mexican dishes you won’t find on the menu of your typical Tex-Mex eatery.
A shy kid who wears his heart on his sleeve, Dale is level-headed and frugal, and determined to make a decent life for himself. His parents never showed their only child real affection. When his father sensed his son’s orientation, he threw him out, although the seventeen-year-old had never acted on it. The boy eventually made his way to a small town some 150 miles north of LA, where he landed a job as a busboy, soon promoted to waiter.
Dale first sees Reynaldo when he serves him and two of his cousins breakfast. They feel an immediate attraction to each other. Their paths cross a few more times before, prompted none too subtly by his cousins, Rey asks him out. Dale loses his virginity on their second date and gives his heart away on the spot. Rey does, too—or would if he allowed himself to. He’s more than twice Dale’s age.
The two struggle with insecurities. Dale, who lacks experience both with sex and relationships, worries about not doing or saying the right things, and is afraid Rey’s family, his mother above all, the formidable Doña Ysabel, won’t accept the gringo. Rey’s problem is the age difference. Their concerns are unfounded. Dale’s behavior is exemplary, the family takes to him right away, and the nineteen-year age gap doesn’t matter. No, they aren’t equals—a thirty-eight-year-old man and a teenager can’t be equals—but they love each other. To pieces. Everyone except Rey can see it’s a match made in heaven.
The entire book is devoted to resolving this imaginary problem, which makes for a satisfying and believable ending, not something the author rushes to tack on to bring his story to a conclusion. The closest thing we have to a deus ex machina is Rey’s meddling relatives, who do what they can to get Rey to see the light. (In conferring on a course of action, they also function as a kind of Greek chorus.) As usual, Brooks proceeds at a leisurely pace, giving the reader a run-down of daily life rather than a lot of high drama. He describes in minute detail work, preparing and eating meals, gardening, parties, excursions, financial arrangements, even housecleaning—not to mention a generous dose of hot and very satisfying sex. This wealth of detail is not unmitigated wordiness. It serves a purpose: to distract the reader from what is going on under the surface.
For me, the novel’s greatest strength lies in Brooks’ ability to show Dale gradually maturing without hitting the reader over the head with it. He doesn’t psychoanalyze his characters, a practice which all too often underscores that they are their author’s creatures and robs them of their independence. No, he reveals Dale’s growth in seemingly insignificant details, so we see it without realizing its import. We see it, but the characters in the book do not—not even Dale, and most of all, not Rey. At first, the boy doesn’t even know for sure what a relationship is. What he wants is “Rey” and “what those other couples have.” By the end, he has figured out what it is they have, so he clearly sees what it is he wants out of a relationship, and he has developed enough sense of self-worth to expect to get it and won’t settle for less.
A book well worth reading. I recommend it.
Dreamspinner Press, Feb. 2013, 270 pages