For most of his life, Oliver has lived by expectations: being a proper family man, being a perfect dad, and being a provider for his loved ones. Even when those expectations are impossible to achieve (like a completely happy, heteronormative family when both people know they’re gay), he sees himself as a failure. So when Oliver’s position is downsized after a merger and he loses his ability to pay for all his loved ones’ needs, he can’t bring himself to tell anyone. Leaving his daughter Dani to get settled into her new college life with her roommate, Emma, is a painful adjustment made more bearable by Emma’s uncle, Nick. Becoming friendly seems like a no-brainer since their girls are roommates, and as the weeks roll on and Oliver’s faced with job rejection after rejection, spending his Sundays getting to know the intriguing, enigmatic miniatures builder becomes the highlight of his week. When Oliver takes Nick up on his suggestion to try to turn his passion for cooking into a new career and offer of help, having an opportunity to do something he actually enjoys and spend even more time with Nick is a chance he can’t pass up.
Nick Zimmermann is used to loss. He lost his parents to a car accident, his older brother soon after to the army and a life of roaming, and his older sister, Rebecca, three years ago to emphysema. While he knows logically that Emma going away to college isn’t the same, he can’t help but see it that way. After all, his brother Cam is still alive too, but such a non-presence in their lives, they haven’t even seen him in over a decade until he shows up looking for a place to stay. Meeting Oliver, though, has Nick opening up in ways he didn’t realize he had closed himself off. Oliver is sweet, charming, and has a way about him that makes him easy to be around and soothes Nick’s heart. Though convinced that Oliver will eventually find all his quirks and differences annoying and unpleasant and leave him too, Nick can’t stop himself from becoming invested in their relationship and helping the floundering man find a new path for himself. As the pair work together to sell Oliver’s vegan creations, their growing connection and possibility of a future together gives both men hope. When an unexpected opportunity comes Oliver’s way that challenges their relationship, both men will have to evaluate what they want, what’s really important, and what they’re willing to let go of in order to move forward in life and with each other.
Sundays with Oliver is an enjoyable, character-driven story, but as such, if you don’t connect with either character, the story may fall a little flat for you. Each man is floundering in different ways and holding onto pain and beliefs that are keeping them from truly living. Oliver has made it his mission to be The Provider—from financing all Dani’s artistic endeavors, to taking care of his niece and nephew at the drop of a hat for his sister. He’s always there with a check or a hand and because of that, there is an unspoken ‘Oliver will take care of it’ vibe in his family. With Oliver being so wrapped up in needing to take care of everyone, he can’t tell them the truth and is trapped under mounting stress and pressure as it seems like everything that can go wrong is. It also doesn’t help that Dani is so involved in her new life that the only time she contacts him is to send him monetary texts, making her absence and their missing connection more palpable and underscoring his belief that his value lies in what he can do for others.
Nick has lived most of his life in a state of unresolved grief. Losing his parents so young and being alexithymic (having trouble identifying and processing one’s emotions) meant he had no real way to verbalize and handle his pain, causing him to wall off his losses and keeping him from truly grieving. Burying pain and uncomfortable emotions under the rigors of routine has become an increasingly unhealthy coping mechanism. When Nick’s sister, Rebecca, became ill, he did his best to take care of her and Emma; in the years since her death, the pair have taken care of each other. As a neurodiverse person, he’s very aware of how he doesn’t fit in or how his ideas or presentation are “wrong” and having Emma there to help him socialize, while also valuing who he is, has been a source of comfort for him. She’s so ingrained in his scheduled life that the pain of her absence and the empty Sundays they used to spend together reminds him of all his losses and it’s easier to hide from his feelings than be overwhelmed by their opaqueness and intensity. I absolutely loved Nick and for better or worse, he could do almost no wrong in my opinion. I definitely appreciated how much Oliver liked and respected him and made it clear that getting to know Nick as a person was much more important than labeling him.
Their relationship development is relatably sweet and awkward. During the week, Oliver is constantly keeping busy, first making sad cookies, then working at his best friend Gray’s café to help him out, trying new recipes and selling his food. The texts he exchanges with Nick during his scheduled break and their Sunday’s makes the pressure he is under more manageable. Oliver is kind, generous, and easy going and doesn’t expect Nick to be anything but himself. He may not get Nick’s need to schedule everything or the limits he puts on when they can text or spend time together, but he (usually) recognizes that it’s important to Nick and tries to respect it. Nick admires and appreciates Oliver’s kind spirit and friendly nature and wants Oliver to find the same comfort and joy in his company that he does. Nick finds himself looking forward to hearing from Oliver, and trying to be more accepting of change.
The main issue I had with their eventual conflict is that it feels out of character for Oliver; at that point, he has a pretty solid understanding of how Nick operates, so it comes across as an almost cruel test Nick was guaranteed to fail and Oliver’s feelings of devastation and rejection don’t fit the scenario or anything he knows about Nick. It didn’t feel like Oliver was so out of sorts or upset that it would make sense for him to approach the situation as he did. However, the type of conflict works for the couple’s relationship development as a whole. The supporting cast is solid, with Emma and Gray being the highlights for me, and while I disliked Cam at the beginning (as he claims to know Nick and his challenges, but is still dismissive and inconsiderate), his behavior gets better as he settles into being a part of the family again and spends time helping Oliver at the farmer’s market; also, the peek into his backstory makes him a more empathetic, conflicted character, which makes sense as he’s getting a book in this series too.
Sundays with Oliver is a slow, easy ride about messy and complicated people discovering themselves after the ways in which they’ve been defined and built their lives no longer work. I think fans of empty-nester stories, older MCs, and characters who love cooking may like it.