In his debut novel, The Marrying Kind, Ken O’Neill demonstrates a keen ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for human behavior. Add to these his dry wit—I laughed, long and loud, several times—and the sum is a wonderful entertainment, loads of fun to read, and very satisfying.
Steven Worth writes for the Gay New York Times, a fact that gives rise to plenty of opportunities for him to be mistaken for a “real” journalist by those who don’t hear (or can’t acknowledge) the “gay” in the periodical’s title. Notable among these is Steven’s mother, Onda, a first-generation Romanian American, with a flair for the dramatic and a knack for the Old-World art of di ocui (“a Romanian diagnostic tool used to determine if someone has the evil eye”), which she employs to great effect, in an effort to support and protect her son. Thankfully, her rituals do not include any intended to alter her son’s sexual orientation. Onda is loving—smotheringly so—and although she is devoted to her son, let’s just say that it is not for him that she screams tears of joy at the news of upcoming nuptials.
And here we have the crux of the matter. I don’t want to give it all away, so suffice it to say that Steven’s boyfriend, Adam More, is a successful wedding planner who risks it all for a principle, and a comedy of errors and some reasons for tears ensue. Steven’s brother Peter and Adam’s sister Amanda are also a couple. It’s all one big happy family, until the rights enjoyed by the straight couple, which the gay couple cannot share, create a tornado of complications and conflicted loyalties that have the potential to tear the bonds asunder.
In addition to the two couples and Onda, the novel is populated by a host of colorful characters, all with their own particular brands of originality, and all ultimately completely lovable. These include Brad, the editor-in-chief of the Gay New York Times, who is obsessed to the ounce with his weight and falls in love too easily with much younger men; Gail, Steven’s lesbian co-worker, who cracks the proverbial (and maybe also the actual) whip; and Adam and Amanda’s mother, Margaret More (the “Mayflower Mother”) with her “ever-present martinis.” They all contribute to the chaos and confusion that follow Adam’s potentially life-changing decision.
This lighthearted romp is the dressing for an important comment on social justice, the issue of marriage equality, arguably the civil rights cause of our day. The story takes place in New York City, and was penned before marriage equality became the law in New York State (in June 2011), but I’m sure O’Neill would not reverse this historic event just for the case of veracity. And it’s easy enough to re-imagine our protagonists in any major city in any of the remaining forty-four states—and most of the countries of the world—that do not yet enjoy marriage equality. Place our adorable couple, Steven Worth and Adam More, in Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas, for example, or make them English and drop them in London. The message is the same: An opposite-gender couple can hop into marriage as easy as one, two, three; same-sex couples do not enjoy the same right.
The Marrying Kind is a warm and accessible story and a highly amusing page-turner, and it may just be that novel that opens a previously closed heart or mind to the reality that love is love, marriage is marriage, and every consenting adult deserves the chance for both.
Purchase the Kindle edition here.
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