The first thing I want to tell you about this book is that it is hilarious. I laughed so hard, so many times reading this book.
The second thing I want to tell you is that I'm giving this book an A- with two caveats:
1. It is not a romance novel.
2. It is hella expensive.
While I don't want to downgrade a book because the price is high, the $9.99 price point for the digital edition (and $15.50 for paperback) combined with the fact that it's not a romance means that I feel the need to caution readers who are curious about the book. I found The Marrying Kind to be hilarious and touching, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, to the point that I started telling people about it while I was reading and read parts of it aloud to my husband (he tolerates that in very limited doses). But be ye warned: not a romance (i.e. it's not about courtship so much as it is about marriage) and it's expensive.
Shall we get on to the good part?
Steven and Adam are longtime partners. Adam More is a wedding planner, one of the most sought-after in Manhattan, responsible for creating jaw dropping weddings and receptions. Steven is a columnist for The Gay New York TImes, and he narrates the story – and this is a very good thing for the reader, because he's screeching funny.
When Adam gets fed up with organizing nuptial events that he and Steven are forbidden from enjoying for themselves by federal law, Adam decides to boycott planning weddings altogether. Steven writes about Adam regularly for his column, and when he writes about this decision and invites others to join the boycott, they find themselves in the middle of a huge movement – because most of the wedding vendors in New York are also, you guessed it, gay. So no hairdressers, waiters, bartenders, musicians, bakers, florists and no wedding planners? That's a big problem.
But when Steven's brother and Adam's sister become engaged, that's an even bigger problem for them. Both Steven and Adam are caught between family and their own beliefs, and are faced with once again being happy for everyone else who can get married, while sitting on the sidelines because they cannot.
First: Adam and Steve. Get it? I didn't until I was nearly 1/3 through the book. Doh.
Second: did I mention this book was funny? Seriously. I'm going to excerpt the hell out of this book in this review because I highlighted so many passages I nearly broke my reading device.
Steven's narration makes this book. It sings, really. You learn about Steven, his upbringing, his mother, Adam and his family, the cats, Steven's love of cooking, and everything about their lives through Steven's point of view (it is first person) and I never wanted to exit his brain. Here's an example: this is Steven talking about Brad, one of the ancillary characters in the novel:
…Brad was my first boyfriend. We met at the University of Connecticut. I was a freshman undergraduate and Brad was in the master's program. He was the teaching assistant in my contemporary fiction class. He was dashing and sophisticated and he had about him a sense of calm that only comes from having vast amounts of inherited wealth.
But we were not meant to be. Our relationship was doomed to failure because I couldn't cope with the difference in our ages, which at eighteen and twenty-five seemed enormous and unsurmountable to me. Now that we are thirty-three and forty, the seven-year age difference seems like such a silly reason for a breakup, especially with so many better – far better – reasons to leave Brad.
When Brad hooks up with a younger man named Charlie:
“Oh, Charlie!” Brad beamed. “I really want the two of you to hang.”
Prior to this conversation, the Brad I know would never have made that statement unless he was actually hoping that Charlie and I would be executed.
“Charlie's great. Tonight I'm meeting his peeps.”
Prior to this conversation, the Brad I know would never have made that statement unless he was actually being introduced to a box of Easter candy.
“I can't wait to see his crib.”
Prior to this conversation… actually in this case, considering the age difference, perhaps “crib” was the ideal word choice.
The movement to boycott all wedding planning came after Steven and Adam were invited to a wedding for one of Adam's cousins, and the invitation arrived addressed to “Adam More and Guest.” Steven, understandably, was hurt and offended, because not only had they been together six years, but they had attended a pile of Adam's cousins' weddings over those six years. Moreover, Steven's brother and Adam's sister, who are also a couple, received an invitation with both their names on the envelope. Steven was really, really hurt.
I'm quoting an extensive passage here, but it highlights many of the things I liked about this book, including the plot, the characters, and the narration:
We were in celebration mode over Adam's decision to stop planning weddings, so we ordered the rice pudding, too…. We sipped the last of our wine and I winked at him. I'd really wanted to reach across the table and take his hand – it's large and strong and I wanted to hold it – but there was a table of ten next to us. They were teenage boys, members of a basketball team, I'd gathered from their boisterous conversation. Better not to risk holding hands, I thought. I didn't want trouble.
Invariably, this moment occurs whenever we go out. Just as I have the impulse to display any kind of slight public affection for Adam, I become paralyzed by the not completely irrational fear that someone observing us will start shouting Faggot. Or worse, actually try to physically harm us. I hate this about myself.
I sat there at the table overcome with a fear I knew I wouldn't be conquering tonight. I settled for the wink.
Adam winked back at me. I suspected Adam was also monitoring his behavior a bit because of the teenagers. Even when we've been in gay-friendly spots like Fire Island or Key West, we're not a big public display of affection kind of couple, but a touch of the hand would have been nice.
“You're right,” he said.
The statement came out of nowhere. I had no idea what he was referring to. “Right about what?”
“And Guest. It's really upsetting.”
“I'll get over it,” I said. I didn't want to make any waves with Adam's family. His mother barely tolerated me. The last thing I wanted was to be branded as a troublemaker.
“We're not going,” Adam said.
“You do know that your mother already hates me, right?”
“I don't mean just this weekend. We're not going to any weddings. Not my family's, not your family's no one's.”
“I don't know -“
“It's the best idea you've ever had.” Adam toasted me with his last sip of wine….
“You know what really gets me?” Adam was on a roll now. “I've never thought about this before. Why doesn't anyone ever say, 'Hey, I know this must be hard for you; we'd love to have you at our wedding. But we totally get it if it's too painful for you to attend.”
What Adam said made perfect sense. But the thought that someone might actually be that PC seemed so improbable to me that I found myself chuckling lightly.
“Don't laugh, I'm serious. And then I could respond, 'Oh, that's okay, I don't want to get married, I'll just sit here and watch.'”
Again, Adam winked at me. I winked back. He gave me one more. And so on. If those jocks from the other table were watching, they might think Tourette's but they'd never guess gay.
The humor in the narration only underscores how painful their exclusion is as they watch families throw themselves over cliffs of glee when their other children become engaged and married. The traditions, the language and the cliches exclude Steven and Adam, and it becomes more hurtful as their families refuse to empathize with their position, expecting Adam to plan his sister's wedding and expecting Steven and Adam both to be in the wedding party.
Steven's relationship with his Romanian mother and brother is one of the more enjoyable portrayals of adult families that I've read, and the depth to which Steven loves his brother, and how upset he is about his brother's wedding, is genuine and very sad. Steven's awareness of his own life as a gay man within his family evolves during the story as well. Here, Steven and his mother are talking about her uncle, Dean:
Dean was my grandfather's baby brother. Although not born in the States, he was far more American than Papu. His English was impeccable. He was an avid reader, a natty dresser, and a champion jitterbugger. By 1941, he'd become a U.S. citizen and he immediately joined the army.
Maia called him a hero but the exact details of his war experiences are sketchy. “He never talked to begin with,” Maia said. “When he came back, he talked even less.” He worked hard, read his books, and stayed close to home. He never married.
“He wasn't the marrying kind,” my mother once said in describing him.
“You mean he was gay?” I asked. This was several years before I'd come out to Onda [Steven's mother].
“Of course not!” she said. I remember how outraged she was at the suggestion. He was a war hero, there was no possible way he could be gay.
I thought of saying, “I'm gay, and you always say I remind you of him – so maybe he was gay.”
Instead I said, “I'm sorry.” I was furious with myself for this – for feeling the need to apologize for asking if someone was gay.
“He just never met the right girl. It happens.”
That afternoon, talking with my mother, was the last time I ever heard her refer to someone as “not the marrying kind.” In fact, I can't recall the last time I heard anyone use that expression. I think that as gays and lesbians started to become more visible, people realized that most of their spinster aunts and mama's-boy-uncles weren't unlucky in love; they were unlucky because they were in love with people they couldn't tell anyone about.
One thing I admired about this book is that everyone in it, even the characters discussed as backstory, are people. Everyone is important and no one is just a vehicle to an end – like a wedding planner creating someone's reception. No one is anonymous or fades into the background of this story – and that's part of the point of the story itself. The people who serve and create weddings should also be able to have them if they want to – and many cannot.
Another thing I loved was that each piece of the story links to another piece. The story above about Constantine then leads to Steven's mother talking about Dean's funeral, and meeting a man there who was weeping. Steven imagines Dean's life and compares it with his own with Adam, and then the past and present mirror each other in ways that reveal how much more than just the story is going on in this book. Even surrounded by family that love them both, it's startling how often Steven and Adam feel isolated and alone.
Steven's narration occasionally falls into caricature. I never doubted his sincerity, but at times he leapt effusively into cliched portrayals. But I remember how funny this book was when I read it, and as I grabbed the excerpts I kept reading, mostly because I wanted to listen to Steven tell me about his story again. The strength of Steven's narration and his way of telling the story and locating it both in the present and in the past of his own family were emotionally rich and totally entertaining for me.
But that strength meant the ending was unsatisfying and hurried. I don't want to spoil it, but there is a Dark Moment and in the end there's the beginnings of possible happiness — but I think the way in which the plot ends, and the ending's location within the length of the story, are unsatisfying on purpose. There isn't a happy ending for Steven and Adam, really, because they can't get married and have their marriage universally recognized in every state in the US. The ending is abrupt and feels unfinished because it's not possible for their actual goal to be achieved right now, and the story is set too accurately in reality to make up a fictional ending where gay marriage is as much an option in the US as heterosexual marriage is.
But Steven's happiness and joyful humor, which reveal how much he loves his life, counter all the things he is aware of that suck mightily. He realizes that things are better for him now than they were a few years ago (this week's EW has an article about the “art of coming out” that makes the point that in a few years, an article like that one about coming out might be completely irrelevant, and won't that be a great thing?) but Adam's movement to stop planning weddings indicates how much room there still is for things to suck less.
When reading this book, I never felt hit over the head with A Message, and I worried that I would. Instead, I Got The Point because of how much I hurt for Adam and for Steven when the million little ways they are excluded coalesced into a toast at a rehearsal dinner. I got The Point about how meaningful it was to stop attending family weddings for two men who honestly and openly love their families. This book made me laugh and made my heart hurt, and I loved the experience of reading it.