Moniz, Tomas. “Big Familia: A Novel”, Acre Books, 2019.
Juan Gutiérrez is a self-employed single father who is dealing with a year of inescapable change. His daughter, Stella, is going away to college; his lover, Jared, is pressing him for commitment; and his Nick’s Lounge, his favorite bar, a dive presided is transitioning into a karaoke hotspot. Tomas Moniz’s “Big Familia” is set in a neighborhood that is also changing with gentrification inciting the established community.
With the unexpected death of one of the bar’s regulars, Juan is sent reeling and this is followed by a series of upheavals as he both looks for and avoids intimacy. He is reminded of his parents’ marriage as he struggles with his sexuality. Juan spends his time cycling, dating and drinking at Nicks Lounge, and being a father to a determined and defiant child who is becoming an adult woman.
When his incarcerated father dies and his daughter tells him that she’s pregnant, Juan is forced to examine the himself and to reassess his ideas of commitment, of friendship and of love. His meetings with his mother, his ex-wife, a middle-aged punk rocker, an acupuncturist and a veteran make Juan realize that he has to change.
Juan represents the ways identity connects and divides us and his story explores desire, devotion, and the mysteries of the heart. Juan’s coming-of age comes late when he is already middle-aged. As he does come-of-age he has to deal with the issues of racism and homophobia, gentrification and police brutality. Even with that, this is a sweet novel that looks at family.
Writer Moniz brings us a diverse cast on the verge of transformation where options are tested, comfort zones are disregarded and new bonds are part of daily life.
He captures the joys and uncertainties of family life in modern-day Berkeley. Juan’s mistakes and miscalculations about romantic and familial make the story bittersweet. The novel is both personal and lyrical as it looks at shame, caring and belonging. The characters are like people we know and we see their
humanity. Juan must let go of his teenage daughter while he tries to open himself up to a man who loves him. All of the characters defy all stereotypes and the first-person narration is from the heart. This is a book that touches the reader.