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[162] Breakfast with Scot – Michael Downing

“We are all a little ashamed of ourselves. We weren’t exactly a family, but we shared a familiar feeling. Over time, in our peculiar lives, some of the shame of being ourselves had stuck to each of us, and it seemed to be the only glue holding us together.” [68]

Sam and Ed are living a good life together in Harvard Square, Massachusetts. Sam is a successful chiropractor whose meditation habit has rendered him more thoughtful and morose than his partner. Ed, an editor for a snobbish Italian art magazine, is spontaneous and upfront. Although they are very devoted to one another (monogamous?), they do not have longing for parenthood. When Julie (Billy’s live-in girlfriend) suddenly dies, her will has named Sam the uncle to be legal guardian of eleven-year-old Scot, because she wishes to protect her son from the irresponsible father.

Not that they don’t like Scot, but soon Ed and Sam realize that being a man who is meant to make good on his word is easier said than done. While they frantically get on with their well-intended preparations for Scot’s arrival, they try to solicit petty prejudices and moral outrage by canvassing—but everyone in the neighborhood and social circle is relentlessly encouraging to the adoption.

Efforts to accommodate Scot into the household and new life, if not altogether futile, are not adequate to ready him and the couple for what is to come. His refusal to speak dismisses him early from school. He also has a predilection for eye shadow, mascara, and lip-stick, as well as kilt and girly accessories. It’s no surprise that he is quickly marked as the cooties: the enduring, merciless grade-school diagnosis of a disease carried by the nerdy, the annoyingly smart, the femmey, the poorly dressed—the abnormal. The usual prescription: harassment and isolation. Is this why Scot is left behind? Would Billy have stuck about if Scot is different, meaning, being normal? For Ed, the question is equally probing. Is it his responsibility to have a preference about Scot’s preferences? Scot’s a stranger to this world that it’s not going to be easy for him to cast off others’ disapproval. So the issues are larger than parenting, because they evoke the society’s desire for normalcy (heterosexual norms) and assimilation to these norms. It reminds Ed and Sam, with a stab of pain, their own struggle for the cause:

“But there’s a lot we do and a lot we don’t do to make ourselves acceptable in their sight. I humble myself before them everyday when I don’t kiss you goodbye in the street.” [55]

A noteworthy thing about this book is the voice. Ed is the narrator of the book and he constantly reminds readers that Billy is not his brother, and he is only doing this for Sam. But Ed becomes very bonded to Scot, having all the conversation on his being queer and different. As much as his sensibility and vociferousness, and his many adventurous number with the boy at the museums and ice-skating rink, Ed is the one who is endowed with a practical sense. His love for the boy, and his vision of his having a bright future simply touch Ed and obliterate any doubt that the three of them cannot be a family. This is a meaningful book that explores one’s identity when it’s viewed as a stigma and shame. Comic but touching.

2 Responses

  1. I have enjoyed the film but had no idea it was based on a novel until I saw the opening credits. Great review as usual, Matt! I like the way you describe how shame and lack of self-esteem could actually bring people together. Gotta check this one out!

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