“One of the Boys” is a spare and haunting novella about the unraveling of a dysfunctional family after divorce. The story is narrated by the family’s youngest son, an unnamed 12-year-old boy who moves across the country with his father and high-school-aged brother in the wake of an ugly family split.
As the three drive from Kansas to New Mexico, there is a sense of high expectations and new beginnings. However, it soon becomes apparent that the father has faked photos to implicate his former partner as a child abuser in their past community and is currently trying to ingratiate himself with each son at the expense of the other.
At one time or another, the father uses each of his sons to stay home from school, run interference with the world, and maintain a façade of surface normality while he loses himself ever further in a downward spiral of drug addiction, violence, paranoia, and manipulation.
These manic episodes are interspersed with brief snatches of optimism in which the older son excels at high school basketball and obtains a part-time job, and the father has a fleeting romantic encounter tinged with normality.
However, the father continues to isolate his offspring from the larger community and the two sons soon furtively appeal to their distant mother to save them from their father’s increasing scapegoating and erratic behavior. She proves weak in her resolve to protect them and events reach a new low when the older brother gets fired from his job for stealing in order to eat and the younger brother endures a brutal beating at the hands of his father.
The father plays on his younger son’s need for belonging by telling him that he will no longer be “one of the boys” if he ever complains about his treatment or passes on tales of mistreatment. What emerges is a story of regret, potential unrealized, and lost innocence akin to that found in Dave Pelzer’s classic abuse memoir “A Child Called It”.
The reader becomes enmeshed in the younger son’s need for approval from his tormentor as opposed to the older son’s world-weary expectation that nothing will ever change in the family dynamic. At novel’s end, the younger son is forced to make a decision that will either continue to enable his abuser or affect positive change. His decision is followed by a recapitulation of the family’s initial car trip to New Mexico almost verbatim from the first chapter. It’s as though time was reversed in order to accommodate the alternative ending of “what might have been” given a perfect world.
Author Daniel Magariel has written a bleak and compelling first novel about male relationships, psychological cruelty, the nature of love and loyalty, and the heartbreak of unrealized possibilities.
By Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Manager and Genealogy Librarian at the May Memorial Library. She can be reached at email@example.com or (336) 229-3588.