The three of them—a twelve-year-old boy, his older brother, their father—have won the war: the father’s term for his bitter divorce and custody battle. They leave their Kansas home and drive through the night to Albuquerque, eager to begin again, united by the thrilling possibility of carving out a new life together. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, make friends. Meanwhile their father works from home, smoking cheap cigars to hide another smell. But soon the little missteps—the dead-eyed absentmindedness, the late night noises, the comings and goings of increasingly odd characters—become sinister, and the boys find themselves watching their father change, grow erratic, then violent.
Set in the sublimely stark landscape of suburban New Mexico and a cramped apartment shut tight to the world, One of the Boys conveys with stunning prose and chilling clarity a young boy’s struggle to hold onto the dangerous pieces of his shattered family. Harrowing and beautiful, Daniel Magariel’s masterful debut is a story of survival: two foxhole-weary brothers banding together to protect each other from the father they once trusted, but no longer recognize. With the emotional core of A Little Life and the compact power of We the Animals, One of the Boys is among the most moving and remarkable debut novels you’ll ever read.
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for a review*
This book is only 176 pages but my, does it cover off some despicable human behavior. Two young brothers ‘stuck’ in between their parents personal demons and a divorce process. The way the boys are manipulated by their father is truly abominable. The mother… well… she appears to be the bully, then the victim and then just a weak example of a woman. I wonder- why does a novel have to be so entirely filled with misery?
As I read this story through the narrative and eyes of the younger brother, I could understand his thoughts, his feelings of guilt, his moments of truth and realization. What made me sad was the fact that there should not have been any guilt and that in the end him and his older brother were only clinging to moments of happiness. Rare moments of normality and that these occasional times of peace and togetherness made the bad moments just all right. Like a wife not leaving her husband even though he beats her, but he always says sorry and maybe even brings flowers. You get me? It’s all kinds of wrong and fiction as this novel may be, for some children and youngsters this is also the reality and I guess that’s why this story rattled me. It could be an episode of someone’s real life.
One of the Boys addresses themes of drug abuse, physical and mental abuse. It delivers immense feelings of hopelessness, hope and then hopelessness again- all through the eyes of a child and his brother who look up to their undeserving father and would do anything for his love. The prose in this novel appears effortless and effective as every word and thought and action is pulsing with human weakness, lies, the death of innocence. The whole environment is described so well I could smell the stench of stale air and cigarettes and hangovers, and feel the misery of this “dungeon”, I was living the life the boys were living.
Having said all of the above, it’s no wonder I cannot see how this can become someone’s favorite book in the sense that they would want to read this again. Or in the sense that they somehow treasure it. One of the Boys packs a punch, for sure, but it doesn’t offer any balance- this story is just a long string of misery. Personally, the ending left me with dark thoughts, and even though real life sometimes really isn’t anything but piss&shit, I would have liked to have finished on a higher note. But that’s just my opinion. It has an open ending with no real conclusion which in turn discounts any progress for any of the characters. Nothing got better and nothing got worse. Rating: 2 stars- It was OK.