“The Handyman’s Summer” by Nick Poff— That Summer

Poff, Nick. “The Handyman’s Summer”,  Old Spruce, Productions, 2019.

That Summer

Amos Lassen

I have been a fan of Nick Poff for a very long time having each of his five volume (so far) of his “Handyman” series. In fact one of the first books I reviewed was “The Handyman’s Dream” in 2005.

“The Handyman’s Summer” is set in 1987 in the late spring, Our handyman, Ed Stephens, and his partner for life, Rick Benton are thinking about their plans for a lazy summer but as might be expected, “the best laid plans…” They are suddenly thrust into mystery, scandal, surprises, and a lesson about the kindness and cruelty of people. 

It all begins when Evie Fountain, the local bag lady, died unexpectedly and suddenly from a stroke. Now her house, rundown as it is, has aroused interest in the two men. They discover that not only is the house in a poor state but that is filled with secrets and Ed and Rick are drawn into a world they did not expect. They are, however, determined to learn the truth behind the rumors that have been circulated throughout their town of Porterfield, Indiana, for almost three decades. It is when a personal journal is found in the house, that they learn of and become immersed in a shameful story of small town bigotry and its terrible results. 

But that is not all that was going on that summer, They have been mentoring and taking care of Neal Soames, a gay teenager who has now graduated from high school but is having second thoughts about going away to college. He moves into Penfield Manor and Ed and Rick try hard to convince him to leave Porterfield for his own future. Then Ed’s friend, Dr. Paul Klarn, calls Ed for help when one of his patients is an unidentified victim of a queer-bashing. Ed and Rick decide to take this young man in as well and they create what their friend Gordy calls, “Uncle Ed’s Home for Wayward Homos.” 

Ed’s mother, Norma, also adds to the mix when she involves Ed in her troubles with the local garden club. “Ed develops a scheme to turn the tables on a pushy, obnoxious woman who is determined to run the club in her own best interests. Norma will have another surprise for Ed before the summer is out. “Expect the unexpected,” Norma tells him.”

But that is not all. Muriel Weisberg, a “self-proclaimed vision-impaired bitch goddess” is also around for the summer and she gives Ed the comic relief that he needs. She is now a  columnist for the local newspaper to solve problems and share her sometimes unconventional wisdom and is there to helpt in the mystery of Evie’s house. Who said thus was going to be a lazy summer? The summer will change the lives of Ed and Rick forever. They have been trying to provide a sense of freedom and acceptance in small town America and they never lose sight of their goal to do so.

Like the other four volumes, I was mesmerized from the first page and I recommend clearing your day before you start reading. I literally devoured the book’s almost 300 pages in one sitting. I simply did not want to stop reading for a moment. While this is a light read, there is plenty to think about. Because I have read all of the books when each first appeared, I was well aware of Nick Poff’s excellent character development and I feel I am aging with the two men. I love their courageousness in being out and proud in a place where it can be very difficult to be so, especially in the 1980s. Poff writes about some difficult issues including homophobia, a hate crime, the Aids crisis and being who you are.  No matte what Ed and Rick are able to rise above it all and even are willing to take gay youth into their home. There is also great sensitivity in the plot and Poff’s prose. Our heroes are those we can identify with and do not want to forget.


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