Warning. You will need tissues when reading this book.
The book started off with a death. The death of a much loved mother. Immediately we see a man vulnerable, hurting, especially because he has to deal with this alone.
The main story arc focussed at the beginning around forgiving a lover who had cheated and was given a second chance, but that theme echoed in a number of ways through the other relationships with family and friends.
Mark (and possibly the author) is a man for whom loyalty is probably a stronger tie than love. The loyalty of dogs is an absolute, loyalty of people is more difficult as each character brings their own baggage and pasts into account.
There were a number of times even interactions with other family members were transformed. Yes, we can all act as assholes at times, but is one comment, one action sufficient to cut off all ties whether they be family, friends or lovers?
Time was an important aspect of the book. Dates were used to signify substantial shifts forward. On occasions this got disconcerting, and you had to pay attention, but as the years progressed, we saw how time itself allowed people these second chances.
Was the character Mark blind not to see how his friend, Antonio, felt?
Perhaps. But the point of this book is that people can change. Feelings can change. Yes, in some ways the wrap up is story-book convenient, especially the money angle, but I was more interested in the build up to this, and the longer time frame made this change realistic. It wasn't an overnight waking up and saying, "Hey, I'm gay." More it was coming to terms, honestly, with who you are.
This is one book where I didn't mind getting to know the family. Warts and all. Being in first person, we see them only through the eyes of the narrator and this is fair.
I loved the political incorrectness of the book. Yeah, he swears. Yeah, he allows his inner bitch to surface at times. Yeah, he's a gay man. Are the three necessarily connected? Not always, but in this case the narrator felt real to me.
Mark wore his heart on his sleeve as the author probably does in real life. Yeah, he ranted and raved on a couple of occasions, but that was when people hurt those he loved. He's a bear roaring his willingness to defend defenceless people.
Bullies need that. Just as kids can gang up on a child who doesn't fit in at school, siblings and their spouses and cohorts can do the same when they unite against a brother if they don't approve of him.
Yet, over time, even they gave him and were given a second chance, albeit grudgingly and suspiciously. Only time would determine whether this change of heart was real.
Because he used his own work situation and experiences so much, the world felt vividly real. I appreciated the time spent detailing his job, the issues he faced, the system he had to work in, the restrictions that were placed on what he could and couldn't do. The way even touching a child in his care was no longer allowed, despite the fact that would be exactly what they needed.
If all you're looking for in a book is character A meets character B, they fall in love, have some difficulties but end up happy ever after, then you won't appreciate all the aspects of this book. It's a story about life as much as it is about love, about giving both second chances.