“The MTZ Christmas party was the only thing Jake never had to fight for budget to pay for – no way would the directors miss out on a chance to throw back Pouilly-Fumé, dance the Macarena, and give lower-ranked female colleagues a few horror stories to scare their daughters stiff with in years to come.”
Most of you know Justin as the Guyliner, a brilliantly witty and insightful columnist, but he’s also a damn fine novelist as this hugely ambitious second book demonstrates. In The Last Romeo, Justin was on familiar territory following a guy who throws himself into online dating, blogging each encounter anonymously as the mysterious Romeo.
That debut captured and showcased all of Justin’s razor-sharp wit and observations. And there’s still much of that in The Magnificent Sons. However, the plot here is far more complex, following two brothers – Jake and Patrick – as they follow very different paths to coming out (to themselves and everyone else) as bisexual and gay, respectively.
There’s a lot on the table here, from Patrick’s defiant and transparent approach as a YouTuber and influencer, posting frequently on his struggles, contrasting beautifully with Jake’s more introverted character. Jake is the older brother, entangled in a relationship with his girlfriend that he maintains because he is too scared to face up to his need to express himself and to face the fallout that will inevitably come; whereas Trick (as his younger brother prefers to be called) wears his heart on his sleeve, trying to roll with the cuts and bruises that come from such openness.
There’s a wonderful sense of different generational attitudes and experiences here – Jake and Trick may be brothers but there’s over ten years difference between them – and the way friends and family react is a telling demonstration of the work society still has to do.
But it’s the personal journeys that impress here. Yes, Justin is typically brilliant at social observations on queer communities and the tricky, complex layers of privilege and discrimination that exist, but it’s because he gets to the heart and soul of his two main characters that give this novel the heart and soul it needs to succeed. Both Jake and Trick are complex characters and he resists giving either of them neat endings, but he does show how there are many different ways to finding your path. Beautifully done.
The Magnificent Sons is published by Little,Brown on 28 May 2020; RRP £16.99.