What do you do when the people you are supposed to trust and rely on most, let you down? What happens when your parents refuse to return the unconditional love you have for them? These questions are addressed in “One of the Boys,” Daniel Magariel’s debut novel, a compelling and heartbreaking story about two brothers who deal with a dysfunctional and abusive father.
The novel focuses on the story of an unnamed 12-year-old boy and his 15-year-old brother as they go through their parents’ divorce. After a custody battle, the two brothers leave Kansas to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with their father. As they settle into their new home, the father begins to meet with strangers, work from home and do very little else. Then, the brothers realize their charismatic father is not the heroic man they once believed he was.
None of the main characters are named, making the plot a little difficult to follow at times. However, Magariel wisely chose the younger brother as the narrator. The younger brother had already seen so much, but was still innocent enough to have unfailing loyalty toward his father — even at the expense of his mother. Because the story is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old, the issues he faces become all the more gruesome.
In the opening chapter, both boys help their father frame their mother for child abuse, winning their full custody for their father. The brothers had long dreamed of a life shared only with their father, and in their eyes, that life might have been great.
But it wasn’t. By simply calling the characters Father, Brother and Mother, Magariel makes the issues in the book impersonal, but still makes it easy to sympathize with the brothers.
Despite his father’s worsening health and ability to take care of the brothers, each decision the narrator makes is in the best interest of the man who brought him into the world. What’s especially notable about the brothers taking care of their father is that they quickly find themselves facing the terrors of adulthood, something they thought they’d never have to deal with.
“One of the Boys” is a chilling coming-of-age story with a narrative that flows quickly, with poignant vignettes dispersed throughout. Magariel has tremendous storytelling talent, and it’s amazing he was able to create such sympathetic characters without giving them names. His razor-sharp prose helps to make the story palpable and proves that Magariel is an exciting new presence in American writing.
The subject matter is dark, but the reader’s love for the protagonist grows as his loyalty to his family members wavers. As he’s torn in different directions and sways from strength to weakness, from compassion to loathing, from despondence to hope, the readers are with him at every turn.