I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.One of the Boys: A Novel by Daniel Magariel
Published by Scribner on March 14th 2017
Format: Electronic ARC
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“Family is all we have,” my father said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “Family is all we have.”
The “war” is over. The divorce is settled and the custody battle is won. A father takes his two sons away from their home in Kansas to start a new life in New Mexico. It’s them against the world! He promises the boys a better life, but his behavior becomes more erratic as they get situated in their new home. He’s quick to minimize any missteps and the boys accept his explanations. The sense of danger escalates as their world gradually becomes more insular and the boys are forced to participate in their father’s strange activities.
“‘There is virtue in sticking it out, in staying put, in building the stamina necessary to endure anything. We can take it. Can’t we take it? Can’t we?’”
The story is told from the perspective of the youngest son, age twelve. The father’s narcissism and manipulations are evident from the beginning, but the boys idolize him and follow his lead. He keeps them in line by appealing to their desire to be “one of the boys” and a dependable family member. His sons are willing to go through immense suffering in order to meet his standards. The psychological abuse escalates into physical abuse and the illusion of the father they thought they knew dissipates. Despite his bad behavior, the boys continue to feel a sense of duty towards him and maintain hope that he’ll change. The way these children can’t help but care for their father makes it even more painful to watch him take advantage of their innate trust. The two boys are forced to become adults when the parents who are supposed to protect them continuously fall short. Every time the brothers attempt to improve their situation, they are thwarted by their unpredictable parents.
I didn’t want his kindness. His cruelty was less confusing.
One of the Boys is a one-sitting read, but it’s a gut-punch of a book. It struck a similar chord in me as Did You Ever Have a Family. It seemed deeply personal and I felt so much anxiety for the characters. The exhaustion the boys feel by the end is palpable. My favorite passage is when the boy reveals a dream he had about his father in a candlelit hallway (Chapter 10). In the dream, his father directs him to paint over the cracks that are lit up by the candles. When daylight comes, the patchy paint job only serves to highlight the damage to the wall.
Life in the desert is found in the testimony of small changes. It is nearly a secret.
What does it mean to be “one of the boys”? One of the Boys exposes the dark side of widely accepted concepts. The boys’ father repeatedly espouses the virtues of masculinity and family. Admirable values, like being there for your family, can be distorted and used as tactics to normalize abuse and make a child incapable of speaking out. This story shows how a child’s unconditional love for their parents can be used to take advantage of them. We see how gradually an abusive situation can take hold and the myriad of ways an adult can betray their child’s trust. It’s a quick read, but by no means an easy one.