The Guy Thing – a review

I’ve not that long ago become a mother for the second time, to an utterly delightful son. At one and a half he’s a dream, a glowing little creature full of delight and wonder, constantly making me laugh and cry, just like his sister did. At the same time I’ve taken a job at a school as an art teacher, working with a motley crew of teenagers, including a load of what I can only describe as lads. One of them, more than one actually, but one in particular I’m thinking of, is a red head like my son, a lump of a thing over six feet tall and all sarcasm and attitude, not a bad lad but certainly a daunting prospect when you’re supposed to engage him in the finer points of depth of field and the art of early 19th century photography.

Looking at both these specimens of the male species, overlooking the obvious maternal bias, I often wonder with no small sense of dread what exactly we do to our boys, to turn such delightful innocents into what can be troubled and hard to manage young men, and to feel on the whole, quite sorry for them that they seem to have to go so far away before finding themselves again.

I’m thinking of all this because I’ve been reading ‘The Guy Thing’ by Bruce Harris, a collection of short stories which gathers together a range of experiences from the male perspective, different aspects of masculinity in pain, in loss, in finding a way forwards despite the odds.

The author began work on the collection after his life partner was diagnosed with Huntingdon’s disease, a life altering condition to say the least, which prompted him to reflect on the way men deal with crisis, both now and in the past. Out of this comes the majority collection, stories which are all snapshots of lives at turning points, moments when the protagonists travel from one state to another, even if they only realise the importance of the moment in hindsight.

They are all separate stories and yet there is a pleasing sense that you’re looking into a connected world, that somehow, if you read hard enough and long enough, you might start to see the relationships between them all, generating past and future, which I really enjoyed. It feels like a street, populated with real stories and real people, and you’re walking though it peering into the windows at snap shots of their lives.

This is not to make it sound twee, some of the stories are dark and leave you feeling bruised and sad, but yet even within these there’s a sense of hope, redemption perhaps, certainly a struggle worth fighting for, all of it on a real, relatable scale.

I can’t say that it was a cosy read, but then I don’t know that I ever want a cosy read that often; it is a real and absorbing read, the ideal thing to make you ponder just what it is we do to our boys, on your way to double art with year eight. I hope we find a way to treat them better, I hope stories like these will help us find a way.


All profits from the book go to the Huntington’s Disease Association, you can find the details of his short story collection and fundraising here.

Get a copy of The Guy Thing here.