Author: R.P. Andrews
Publisher: Kokoro Press
Cover Artist: Les Byerley
Rating: 3.0 of 5 Stars
The new boss is in…
In the course of minutes, twenty-one year old Jonathan Antonucci, barely out of the closet gay man from suburban New York, finds himself a multi-millionaire. His great uncle Charlie has unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving Jon the sole owner of several of the most successful bars in Wilton Manors, Ft. Lauderdale’s gay ghetto.
Flying down to Lauderdale to claim his bequest, Jon encounters Uncle Charlie’s dubious friends and business associates, and is immediately drawn into Lauderdale’s scene of unbridled sex and heavy drugs. He also discovers his great uncle’s memoirs which reveal truths not only about Jon’s own past but also what may have really happened to his uncle. In the end, Jon is torn between avenging Uncle Charlie’s death or loving the very man responsible for it.
I know why the Prism folks assigned this one to me, although I have to say it was a tough read. I had to think about what bothered me, because I need to be fair. What I liked about R.P. Andrews’ “The Czar of Wilton Drive” is the fact that it focuses on hairy men, rather than on waxed gym bunnies. Secondly, there is a lot of attention paid to older men—men even older than I am—as romantic interests. Both of these are refreshing changes from my usual reading. The premise of the story is fun: a twenty-one year old Italian-American boy (hairy, of course) inherits everything from a great-uncle he barely knew. Raised by his grandfather, a homophobic delivery-truck driver on Staten Island, Jon keeps his sexuality hidden and indeed is a virgin (other than wanking sessions with his childhood chum Ernie). His grandfather’s gay brother has been shut out of the family’s life, and thus Jon is a little nonplussed to realize that his uncle was not only a millionaire, but owned the two biggest leather bars in Fort Lauderdale, not to mention a glamorous condo close to the beach and an emerald green BMW.
Then it began to go a little off the rails for me. Fair warning: very spoilery from here on. Faced with this sudden shift in fortune, our high-school educated hottie (think Vinnie in “Welcome Back Cotter,” which is to say John Travolta) immediately adapts to the world his great-uncle Charlie left him. He starts taking drugs, having unprotected sex and consorting with criminals. Jon also stumbles across a memoir left on his great-uncle’s computer, and through it learns the story of Charlie’s life as well as all of Charlie’s secrets (not the least of which is a partner of forty years with whom he has been miserable and on whom he has cheated for nearly all of those years). Jon comes to realize that his uncle made good financial choices throughout his life in exile, but bad personal choices. OK. I could deal with this; but then it totally went off the rails for me.
Jon’s epiphany at the end of the book seems to be: “Eh, he was an adult, and the choices were his to make.” Then Jon makes the same choices. Oh, yes, he does good things for his family, because they’ve all had a hard life. He never tells any of them or his homophobic grandfather that he’s gay (that’s nobody’s business) or even defends his late benefactor to the family who rejected him. He just smiles and lets them think he’s getting lots of hot babes down in Florida, now that he’s rich. In the most bizarre twist of all, Jon decides, after telling off the lawyer that covered up the cause of Uncle Charlie’s death, that the love of his life will be the hot hairy drug dealer who was in fact responsible for that death. Because, after all, Uncle Charlie chose to become addicted to meth. Apparently. The forty-five-year-old drug dealer, who as a felon needs Jon to acquire more bars (i.e. more liquor licenses), seems to want Jon to be his boy toy. And Jon’s down with the program as his happily ever after.
The weirdly amoral compass that guides this story is not unbelievable. It’s just rather alien to the values and consciousness that have formed my perspective in forty years as a gay man. It is very hard to read this book with any sort of detachment, especially as I see the central character, who is an appealing young man, making the exact same mistakes his great-uncle laments making in his memoir. My unhappiness with this book has nothing to do with its adoration of bears or leather culture. I’ve read plenty of BDSM books. Not my thing, but so what? The irony is that the only leather bears who are actually admired are the ones who work out at the gym enough so that they look 20 years younger than they are. The rest are objects of ridicule and pity, just as older men often are in the world of m/m romances. Uncle Charlie is a hero to Jon because he doesn’t look 65 or act 65. The fact that he’s a drug addict is less important than the fact that he can still attract men a generation younger than he is to his bed.
Andrews has written another book called “Confessions of a Str8 Gay Man,” published in 2011, which might point to the source of my discomfort. To quote its description, the book offers the perspective of “a member of the great silent gay majority who do not espouse the fluff of gay sub-culture or all its political correctness but lead quiet, ordinary lives.”
Hmm…I’ve always assumed I led a quiet, ordinary life. But apparently I am mired in the gay subculture of fluff and political correctness.
Now, back in the 1980s, I read all of John Rechy’s books, including “City of Night” and “Sexual Outlaw.” Those were gritty memoirs of a butch gay man who had no romantic notions about being gay or using sex. No political correctness there, and yet a strong sense of self as a gay man in a hostile world. None of that sort of honest self-appraisal surfaces in “The Czar of Wilton Drive.” Moreover, Andrews needs a good editor. The ARC I read was riddled with grammatical and vocabulary errors. I mean, the expletives are spelled wrong. Jeez.
I gave this book three stars because it’s an interesting slice of life—a life as alien to my worldview as if I was straight. I’d love to see some discussion about this among the women who write and read m/m romances. And also among the gay men who write and read them.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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