Review: Probation by Tom Mendicino

All it took to destroy Andy Nocera's seemingly perfect life was an anonymous tryst at an Interstate rest area. Sentenced to probation and thrown out by his wife, he spends his week as a traveling salesman, and his weekends at his mother's house where no questions are asked--and no explanations are offered. To clear his record, the State of North Carolina requires Andy to complete one year of therapy without another arrest. He attends his sessions reluctantly at first, struggling to comprehend why he would risk everything. Answers don't come easily, especially in the face of his mother's sudden illness and his repeated failure to live as an openly gay man. But as Andy searches his past, he gets an opportunity to rescue another lost soul--and a chance at a future that is different in every way from the one he had envisioned.

With profound honesty, sharp wit, and genuine heart, this debut novel portrays one man's search--for love and passion, acceptance and redemption--and for the courage to really live.
How do I write about a book with such amazing story telling that it’s going to take me almost as long to go through all my highlighted quotes as it did to read the book in the first place?

 My words aren’t going to do justice to this book, they just aren’t. I’m not even going to tell you about the story much. It’s Andy’s story to tell and you need to hear it from him and reading it for the first time without knowing much about what’s coming is too good to be messed with in a review. His voice is so painfully honest, his words broke my heart but I couldn’t put this down. He’s a character that will stay with me.

Probation is the story of one man’s fall from grace and his journey to the truth for himself. On paper, Andy isn’t someone I should have any sympathy for. But what was so compelling about this story is the author’s portrayal of Andy. He’s not a hero, he’s not a bad guy, he’s just a man and he has a story. His whole life is dissected in the one year he is placed on probation and forced into court appointed therapy. Andy Nacero has been living a lie. Trouble is, he's also a natural born salesman and he's had himself believing his own sales pitch. But, as Andy says:

Life is a series of 'what ifs'

What if just one thing were different, if that one thing changed? Could he go on living that comfortable lonely lie?

Andy's lie is very real and can’t be summed up with one or two tragic events from his past. As Dorothy Parker said, “It’s not the tragedies that kill us; it’s the messes.” And Andy is a mess. Throughout the story I loved his honest voice, it was incredibly heartbreaking and real without being pathetic and once his story really started to unfold I couldn’t put this book down. All the messes he’s had have made him who he is. Taken individually, many could possibly be explained away, we all have childhood moments we would rather not recall. He has a few though that are terribly damaging but because he isn’t even honest with himself, he has no one to share his burdens with. A lifetime of hiding has taken its toll and the saddest thing is he doesn’t even realize that there are other options for him. That love, romance and the connection to another human being is possibly available to him. He hates himself and everything he represents so much he can’t see past stereotypes to give anyone, much less himself a chance.

Andy has become a sponge for all the shame and blame of his loved ones. His therapist, Matt, tells him, “Shame seems to be a recurring theme in your life”. It’s completely self-prescribed too, from his sister’s relationship with his mother and her family to Alice and her father. Those relationships were messed up all on their own and would have been with or without Andy. Selfishness isn’t just for personal gain and Andy sees himself as the catalyst for the damaged bonds between these people. He uses that blame as fuel for his self-loathing, it’s easier to stay there than to make painful changes and possibly hurt people he loves. He antagonizes just to fuel the fire. Talking about Alice’s father, also his boss:

My efforts to capture his attention never failed to provoke paternal eruptions that fueled my courage and pushed me a little closer to the edge of outrageousness . . . .

Secondary characters in this story were amazing. You would think, with all of Andy’s issues, his family and friends would be awful people, but they are just like him, they’re human. They have their own problems and it took tragedy and illness for Andy to get some perspective.

Andy’s mom is his rock and where he goes when there is no place else for him. She’s very old school and on the surface it seems she’s mostly concerned with proper appearances, but she’s a mama bear at heart and her methods work as well as she’s able to make them. They don’t “talk” about what happened with Andy, that’s just not how she operates:

We’re very comfortable here in the zone between questions left unasked and answers never offered.


My mother will be there, ready to catch me if I fall and lead the charge when I’m challenged.

He has no doubt though that she loves him unconditionally and it took coming back home to figure that out.

Matt, the therapist is a perfect fit for Andy. He makes him comfortably uncomfortable and gets Andy to see things in a fresh light. I think one of the most memorable parts of this book was when Matt asked Andy to write his own report of his progress at the end of their year together. Andy was brutally honest and incredibly insightful. I read his report a couple of times because he nailed it so well.

There are so many others, Alice, Gina, his father, his nephew (probably most importantly his nephew) – gah, I could go on all day about them all, but I have to say his relationship with every random hookup broke my heart but showed the most hope for a real future than any other relationship he had. When a potential hookup flirts with him and asks:

Do you want to be wooed?
More than he can ever know, for as long as he’s been on this earth.

Andy's reaction killed me.

While Andy may not have been in a place where he could verbalize it yet, he did have hope and I could see it even when he was at his lowest. That’s what was so amazing about the writing here, how the author kept me hooked on Andy through all the awful things that happened but with underlying glimpses of optimism that I had to see play out.

This paragraph hit me, a hookup told Andy how much he liked him, pretty simple stuff, but – this is absolutely Andy right here:

He couldn’t know the impact of his words; he wouldn’t understand I’d waited my entire life to hear another man speak them but had made conscious, deliberate choices to ensure I never would. And all that careful planning – compartmentalizing, rationalizing, justifying, avoiding, excusing, lying – where had it gotten me in the end? Locked in a fucking jail cell and kicked out on the street. But somehow I’d survived to make it here, at long last, to this tiny apartment, at the brink of an auspicious beginning. But my fear of the risks of intimacy, the possibility of rejection, still held me back. The only thing more terrifying than losing my home, my job, my good name, was the very real possibility of losing my heart.

I really can’t recommend this book enough. I was honestly planning on being depressed while reading Probation, and I’ve said it here repeatedly, my heart broke over and over, but Andy’s story is too compelling not to go through with him. Sure, parts are sad as hell, but I knew there had to be something more waiting for him. The ending was completely realistic in its subtlety and I loved it more than any extravagant, over-the-top HEA. The completion of Andy’s story fit him so well and I couldn’t have been happier for his future.

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