Author: Santino Hassell
What I’m Talking About:
3/10/2018 Edited to Add: Please note, this review was written and posted prior to the occurrences brought to light in recent days (https://goo.gl/Y7WB7F). The book was read and reviewed in good faith and as presented at the time. The posting of this review in no way condones the actions of author.
Michael Rodriguez is a determined man. Whether he’s teaching the students in his history class, dealing with his family, or partying, his resolve is noteworthy. Still, taking care of the house his mother left him, worrying about his younger brother, and the fallout of a recent break-up have left him unsteady and on edge. The only bright spot in his life is his best friend, Nunzio, and after a particularly alcohol-drenched evening, even that feels uncertain. With the lines blurred from more than just too much alcohol, Michael will have to decide what’s worth fighting for before he loses it all.
Nunzio Medici has been fighter all his life. Rejected and abused by his family, the only love of any kind he’s ever known is his friendship with Michael. But, Michael’s got demons of his own to battle, and things are getting worse instead of better. Watching his best friend surrender to all the wrong things hurts too much, but can he really turn his back on the only person he’s ever loved? Or, is that the only way to save him?
Saying that I “loved” Michael, especially at first, is grossly oversimplifying my opinion of him, which is part of what makes him one of the better characters I’ve read lately. Saying that he’s “complicated” doesn’t really work, either, although he unquestionably is. Michael is an addict. An alcoholic. He is selfish and needy, yet he flings himself headlong into a pervasive isolation in order to protect those he cares about from his own downfall. He is a caretaker and a teacher. He’s both observant and oblivious about those he should know best, never mind himself. He is passionate about many things, his own self-loathing included. He may be tired of hearing about how much “more” he could be, but that doesn’t make those who tell him so wrong. The fact that he’s loved by some pretty spectacular people, Nunzio, in particular, made me want him to pull out of his spiral so badly that it hurt.
Nunzio, however, was wonderful from the beginning. He was easily my favorite character in Sutphin Boulevard, and I’m not certain I could have gotten through Michael’s story without him. If I could beg for a short follow-up about him and Michael, I would. Friend, lover, confessor, protector, soul mate—Nunzio is everything. His relationship with Michael is in no way balanced, but love isn’t born of negotiation. Maybe that’s why his feelings for Michael got to me so much. Most of the yelling and hair clawing I did (which happened frequently during this reading) was because of Michael’s actions with regards to Nunzio. I absolutely adored him.
The heart of Michael’s troubles, like it or not, is his increasing dependence on alcohol and pills. Thanks to Mr. Hassel’s frank treatment of the subject, every drink Michael took sent a pang through me as his relentless slide deepened, and I kept hoping he’d “hit rock bottom” soon, so he could (hopefully) begin the ascent on the other side. But, in Michael’s case, it seemed that there was no trough, just further and further for him to fall. I think the most frightening part of Michel’s addiction was that he had, in fact, done the math, and, no matter what anyone did to try to help him, they couldn’t offer up any lifelines or epiphanies, despite their best intentions. When faced with the temptation of forgetting, all he wanted was the awful relief of giving in.
The relationship between Michael and Nunzio was the highlight of the novel for me. Inseparable since middle school, they complete one another so thoroughly, that I never was able to successfully imagine them with other people. From the beginning of Sutphin Boulevard, theirs is an enthusiastically heated and physical relationship, even though the repercussions are always lurking just beneath the surface. Having acknowledged that aspect of the story, there’s far more to it than that, and seeing a friendship that deep and complex was truly a pleasure that needs to be read and experienced firsthand.
Despite the heavy themes behind Michael’s actions, Sutphin Boulevard is a story about love and redemption and the occasionally brutal path to both. Mr. Hassell practically flays Michael open, so much so that all the things he was feeling—his anger, apathy, exhaustion, and, thankfully, his desperation to make things right—were substantive and weighty to the point that it was impossible not to feel them to varying degrees myself. This narrative is difficult and unique, and, I think, important for anyone who finds themselves on either side of addiction. It is a dark tale in many places, to be sure, but makes the lightness that filters in so tangible and sweet that I felt a real relief when it was okay to be hopeful again. I’m extremely grateful to have had the chance to read Sutphin Boulevard. I believe that something would have been missing if I hadn’t. It was quite a journey.
My Rating: A, Loved It
About the Book:
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.
Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.
When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
Release Date: July 31, 2015
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Series: Five Boroughs #1
Genre: LGBTQ, Contemporary Romantic Fiction
Format(s): paperback (264 pages), e-book
Book Source: Publisher/Author