Christopher DiRaddo’s The Family Way is a gateway drug into the quirk and fabulousness of all things gay. What to wear to “Souper des Femmes,” where they drink their dinner in drag? Prefer “a fuzzy treasure trail” or “a man hairy as a shark?” “What’s a whale breach?” Can they romance their friend’s new lover? Don’t ask, don’t tell no longer evokes the era of discrimination against gays in the U.S. military but describes how to cope with encounters on- and offline. Is it better not to know? Are you among the commitment phobic? What about NSAs (not the National Security Agency) after your relationship reaches the two -year mark? We learn what it’s like to be on the inside of these conundrums and ultimately from a chosen family that never questions acceptance after centuries of discrimination in every aspect of their lives.
The central character, Paul, leads the way as he works unstintingly on his own relationship with Michael, who suffered trauma from childhood abuse and his parents’ contentious marriage. Their sons, two cats named Malone and Sutherland, anchor their ambient home life. As issues arise, Paul’s compassion is unwavering, a lovely complement to the backdrop of joy and wackiness that comes with surrogacy. When his bestie Wendy wants to start a family with her wife Eve, Paul is a likely candidate. Questions arise about parental roles, whether his own family will accept and regard the lifelong decision with the same sobriety and enthusiasm they provide to a straight step-sibling impregnated at the same time. Paul’s role as Papa Bear spans out far beyond Michael, placing the care and protection of a coterie of high camp friends above all else. Rich with emotional intelligence, the struggle for intimacy is apparent in the actions and inactions of the characters in this contemporary novel about acceptance. A novel rife with wit, pageantry and all the idiosyncrasies one might expect from the originality of this perspective.
As characters in their late 20s and 30s move into the next decade, it’s clear times have changed along with the legitimacy painfully earned in the early part of the 21st century after the terrifying scourge of AIDS. What struck me was the cultural trend toward homogeneity that reminded me of the debate over Bill 96, killing bilingualism and forcing Anglophones into minority status to protect French language and culture in Québec, the provincial home base for the novel and the author.
With the quintessential irony that’s distinctively gay, the relentless search for live and online sex leads to fatigue and self-doubt as expressed by Paul’s beloved friend Danny: “I don’t know. I’m sick of the male body right now. I’m more of a homo-sectional these days. I just want to spend time with my couch.”
DiRaddo tackles the costs of monogamy and polyamory with raw honesty and authenticity, much like the dilemma of immigrants in the tenuous position of protecting their culture amid the onslaught of a society while trying to assimilate and fit in. Blending in has its advantages and disadvantages. In general, there’s more opportunity, more stability, more security but less adventure when solace in a loving, even a troubled relationship, is preferred, at least for the time being.
There’s the all-important question of conception and raising a family in queer relationships as judicious and circumspect vs. arbitrary, as in ‘that’s what we do next’ in heteronormative marital relations. The desire and planning that goes into starting a family is absolutely intentional and never fortuitous, which does not go unnoticed for all the obvious reasons.
When the novel moves deeper into the relationship between Paul and Michael, issues of fundamental trust mix with the reality-based need to love and be loved, taking on the ubiquitous debate about open relationships. From a cultural standpoint, a shift is notable as identity politics move front and center, further muddying what was formally delineated between gay & straight relations. Annual vacations to P-town test the waters.
On the given family side, the sibling relationship with Kate is truly edifying as Paul’s sister embarks on an extramarital affair while Paul endeavors to stay true to his lover. Satire is a shared trait when they commune on the couch to watch the Royals. “Someone should have told Beatrice that…headpiece looks like an alien vagina!” Wit again when Paul finds out Wendy is preggers. “The embryos in the accompanying images all looked like …the battered pieces of salt-and-pepper shrimp … I would toast to on our nights in Chinatown.” In the case of a confab among friends, you don’t listen, you “glisten.” A pleasure for readers tackling ever more serious issues roiling beneath the surface of this refreshingly authentic novel. For a virtual vacation from the ordinary and mundane, DiRaddo’s work speaks to the evolution of gay life in these extraordinarily bizarre times when the desire to have or create a loving family is more important than ever before.
The Family Way
by Christopher Diraddo
Esplanade Books; 400 p.
Melanie Mitzner’s novel Slow Reveal will be published on May 17, 2022 by Inanna Publications, York University, Toronto. Awarded an Edward Albee Fellowship for her play Personal Effects, her screenplay Dodge and Burn was a finalist in the Writers Guild East Foundation Fellowships. In the Name of Love and Out to Lunch were finalists in the Houston Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. She received a fellowship from M.E.T. Theater and fiction grants from Vermont Studio Center and Summer Literary Seminars. An excerpt of her novel Too Good to Be True was published in Harrington Lesbian Quarterly. She writes for Vol1Brooklyn, Wine Spectator, Hamptons, The Groovy Mind, Society for Curious Thought, Broadcast Week, Millimeter and Video Systems. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. For more information, visit her website: www.melaniemitzner.com. She lives in Montréal and New York.