Soap opera actor Mark Wesley is surprised when his old friend Jason Craig shows up out of the blue. Mark hasn’t seen Jason in 18 years, not since Mark left their small town when he was 15 and Jason 13. Jason has come to share the bad news that Andrew, Jason’s brother and Mark’s childhood best friend, has recently died of cancer. Mark is devastated by the news. Even though he had lost touch with Andrew, he still feels the bond of their childhood friendship, especially because Andrew was the only person Mark had confided to about being gay and his difficult past.
Jason tells Mark that Andrew wanted the two of them to go to the high school reunion together. Mark has very bad memories of high school and has no interest in revisiting them, but he agrees to Andrew’s wishes. It is painful facing the bullies who mistreated him years ago, but the experience does give him some closure. Then Jason reveals that there is more to Andrew’s plan. He has made a bucket list of sorts, a list of places he has always wanted to visit and share with his son. He has asked Jason to visit these places for him and bring home memories for his nephew. And Andrew wants Mark to go with Jason.
Again Mark agrees, and the two men begin a journey that takes them around England and Scotland. Both men are still experiencing incredible grief at Andrew’s loss. But they are also growing closer, finding companionship and a bond with each other. Seeing London, Stonehenge, and other sights helps them honor Andrew’s memory, at the same time as they begin to build their own memories together. As the two men begin falling for one another, they both wonder if perhaps this is what Andrew had intended all along.
The Bucket List is a sweet story with a nice bit of travelogue thrown in. It really is focused on two main parts. The first is Mark and Jason’s growing relationship, and I found I really liked them together. They are both good guys, sweet and caring and connected by their shared grief. Jason is still so clearly struggling with the loss of his big brother. The experience of visiting these places that were important to Andrew is cathartic, but also difficult for him, and he often breaks down along the way. But we see that although his grief never fully goes away, being with Mark helps Jason find another focus and really enjoy his experience and make new memories. Mark has had a much more difficult past, and has basically reinvented himself from the boy he was at 15. He is wealthy and famous and has reached his goal of acting professionally. But he is in the closet and has no real personal life. And more importantly, he has never really had closure on his past. Being with Jason allows him to finally unburden himself of many of the secrets he has been keeping. So we see both these guys make an emotional journey here, moving from pain and grief toward more happiness, and finding comfort in the companionship.
The other side of the story is sort of the big picture with Andrew inspiring this trip and the reconnection with the two men. In some ways I think this worked well. I loved the idea of Jason carrying out his brother’s bucket list, of the two of them talking while Andrew was sick and letting Andrew live out his dreams through Jason. I could completely understand why Jason would put his life on hold to honor his brother this way, and to gain experiences he could share with his nephew on Andrew’s behalf. I did find in other places I had some trouble suspending disbelief a little though. I mean, I guess I can see Mark agreeing to go to the reunion, although Jason showing up after 18 years when Mark’s had no contact with either brother, and Mark turning around to leave that day does seem hard to accept. Especially because Mark didn’t even graduate from that high school and he is going to their reunion? It seemed maybe a bit contrived in order to get Mark there to confront some of his demons. Then Jason tells him Andrew wants to them to go to England together, and Mark again agrees to pick up and go after only being with Jason maybe a day or two. I mean, it has been 18 years and doesn’t hesitate to put his life on hold for this. Mark and Andrew only knew each as kids, however close they were. I had a hard time believing that Mark would so easily just take off here, though we do get a sense that Mark experiences remorse for the way things ended with Andrew and maybe it is guilt leading him.
I also found it somewhat hard to believe that for his part Andrew would be so invested in an old childhood friend, so much so that he planned this whole bucket list endeavor with Mark in mind. I mean, they haven’t spoken in 18 years. Andrew knows nothing about Mark’s current life other than what he reads in the press. Yes, publicly Mark is in the closet, but for all Andrew knows he may be out to friends and family, be over his past, have a partner, and be perfectly happy. So setting up this elaborate plan, as he lay dying of a quickly moving cancer, rather than focusing on the people currently in his life felt a little contrived as well. I know, I know. I need to just go with these things sometimes. So I did try to move past this, but it did linger in my mind as the story developed how unlikely this all seemed.
All that said, I did find this a sweet and enjoyable story. Jason and Mark are really likable guys, and I could feel for them as they went on this journey together. I particularly liked the time spent in England and Scott does a great job really making the places they visit come alive. This story definitely has it share of sadness, but I did not find it depressing or overwhelming. The balance is really good here, allowing us to see the issues these men are facing, while at the same time letting us watch as they move on and begin to build something new together. So overall a sweet, kind of quiet story of two guys moving on from their pasts together.
Note: This book was originally posted as an unfinished short story on the author’s blog and has been substantially expanded and further developed into this story.