eBook review copy; 176 pages
One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel is a very highly recommended debut story of survival that focuses on a father's physically and psychologically abuse toward his sons.
The unnamed 12-year-old narrator, his older brother, and their father have survived a brutal divorce and custody battle referred to by the father as "the war." After the narrator participated in lying about his mother's negligence so his father could gain custody and the narrator can be "one of the boys," the three leave Kansas and move to New Mexico to begin a new life. The boys go to school and join basketballs teams while their father works from home. At first it seems that they have a chance at the good life their father promised.
Soon it becomes clear to the narrator that their father will be just as violently abusive toward his sons as the father was toward their mother. He also figures out that his father is covering up a serious drug addiction. Their father is quickly headed downhill and the boys are increasingly exposed to an increasingly odd group of strangers in their home. The boys have only each other to lean on for support while they try to carefully maneuver around their father's erratic, violent drug-induced mood swings.
Magariel's carefully written prose manages to capture the boys' loss of trust in their father, and the hopelessness they feel trying to figure out what to do next to survive life with him. The way the charismatic father manipulates his sons and their response is chilling. He is their father and wants what is best for them, right? Because they are "one of the boys" it's their job to protect and look out for him, right? The mixed emotions the boys experience is heart-breaking, yet realistically portrayed.
This is a remarkable, stunning, brilliant, extremely well-written debut novel. At only 176 pages it can be read in one sitting, but the modest size of the novel belies the huge emotional impact on the reader. That is going to last much longer.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.