The Magnificent Sons by Justin Myers — book review


“Don’t get me wrong, labels can be destructive and restrictive, but they also help you define yourself.”

The Magnificent Sons follows two brothers, Jake and Trick D’Arcy, with opposing personalities, one is a rather private person while the other one is a social butterfly and YouTuber. Their age-gap, Jake is 29 while Trick has just turned 17, doesn’t make their relationship easier. They are rather inflexible, and seem unwilling to stray from their generation’s values, beliefs, and worldview. Jake believes that Trick is spoiled and mollycoddled, while Trick thinks Jake is an awkward and boring loser.
After Trick comes out as gay, their parents couldn’t be more supportive, while a jealous Jake makes an intensive comment, souring their already fraught relationship. Jake himself is struggling to reconcile himself with his sexuality. Although he has a girlfriend he sort of cares for, he’s no longer willing—or able—to ‘hide’ his bisexuality. When he comes out as bi however, his parents aren’t impressed. They are confused and unsure of what ‘bisexuality’ means. Trick, the supposedly woke younger brother, offers him no support, and makes fun of him behind his back (his disparaging comments reminded me of Little Britain’s ‘the only gay in the village’ sketch ). As Jake navigates his ‘new’ life, he’s confronted with how his coming out has affected the way his family, friends, and colleagues see him.
I wish the story could have been entirely focused on Jake and Trick. The third-person narrative however would move from character to character, often within the same scene. These different perspectives added little to the overall story, and didn’t really add any depth to the secondary characters. If anything this ‘shifting’ between perspectives interrupted the flow of the narrative. Also, if more time had been spent on Jake and Trick, perhaps they would have been a bit more layered.
There are so many superfluous characters: friends of friends, colleagues of friends…and they are all very forgettable. Jake is perhaps the most fleshed out character in the novel, and even he would have benefitted from more a more developed personality. Still, as he’s called out, or calls himself out, for his past/existing preconceptions (about being with other men, the LGBTQ+ community, masculinity), he does seem to have a character arc. He’s flawed but capable of challenging his lazy-thinking or biases.
Yet, while Jake realises why he has behaved badly towards his girlfriend, Trick, and his friends, most of the other characters aren’t called out on their biphobia or their biphobic comments. Trick in particular really irritated me. He act like an entitled 14-year-old, whose obnoxiousness verges on the solipsistic. His ‘grudge’ against Jake was so childish. More often than not, Jake is just existing and Trick thinks things like: “[he] wished life were a photo so he could crop Jake out of it”. Much of his narcissistic or cruel behaviour is chalked up to his ‘young age’…but I low-key hated this guy. He was portrayed as a stereotype of the generation Z.
While I appreciated the realistic romantic/sexual relationship in this book, part of me would have liked to have seen some ’emotional’ depth to them (Jake and his girlfriend for example…I felt nil between them). Platonic relationships too could have been a bit less stilted.
While the characters don’t respond well to Jake’s bisexuality, I did enjoy Myers’ portrayal of Jake’s sexuality. Many of his doubts or desires resonated with me, and I particularly liked it when Jake describes the differences between his attraction to men and to women.
Still, I wish that Jake hadn’t been so often painted as the bad guy. It seemed like the author would often go out of his way to embarrass him or make him say/do the wrong thing. The secondary characters blurred together, and I frequently forgot who was friend with who. Trick was an incredibly annoying character, who in spite of his privileged background, wants others to ‘feel’ for him.
All in all, I have quite a few reservations about this novel.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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