...this is a gorgeously tight tale swelling with wisdom about the self-destructive longing for paternal approval and the devastating consequences of clinging to rotten models of masculinity ... This is a novel about conquering the addiction to abuse and the perverse idea that it’s somehow a form of loyalty ... Yet for all the pain they inflict on one another, for all the betrayal and resentment trapping them together, Magariel’s characters — the male ones, anyway— never feel typecast or pitied ... Magariel’s gripping and heartfelt debut is a blunt reminder that the boldest assertion of manhood is not violence stemming from fear. It is tenderness stemming from compassion.
Perhaps the most painful part of this book is its depiction of how victims can collude with an abuser. The boys don’t just cover up for their father, they hurt each other at his command, and in one particularly ugly flashback, take part in the physical abuse of their mother. Magariel’s portrayal of this process is remarkably lucid and unsparing. Some passages feel so true, you keep wanting to put the book down to applaud ... While the low-life characters and grim settings are wonderfully drawn, you begin to wonder: could Albuquerque really be that bad? ... Abusive relationships can make victims feel their identity has been stripped away, that nothing remains of them but a series of reactions dictated by the abuser’s behaviour. One wishes Magariel had been able to evoke this experience while also conveying that it’s not true. This is not to dismiss what he has achieved. In one of his many crises, the father challenges his sons, 'Tell me one true thing about life … Either of you. Tell me one true thing.' Magariel has triumphantly, unforgettably, told us one true thing.
A slim, deeply affecting and brutal story ... There's nothing fake or forced in Magariel's writing; he even pulls off the trick of relying on a 12-year-old narrator without pandering to sentimentality or wise-child syndrome. Those are some of the pitfalls Magariel avoids; what he achieves is a novel that makes readers feel what it would be like to live on high alert all the time; to be at the mercy of a father's addictions, crackpot whims and surges of violence. He also makes us feel what it would be like to still love such a father.
Without names, the bare leverage of family is exposed ... One of the Boys is a book about taking control, marking territory, and choosing sides; and Magariel knows how to make life beyond the reach of abuse seem distant enough not to see, if not impossible to imagine ... It’s a novel of short, blunt, often powerful sentences — some a bit too insistently doing their Ernest best to project a masculinity as still and arid as the Albuquerque air ... Magariel’s careful way of doling out these measured portions of beauty plays against the stalling stiffness of his prose elsewhere, and it comes across less like the stumbles of a first-time novelist and more like the structured reward of the manipulator. Which, I should be clear, is not to say Magariel is nearly as cruel as the father he’s written, but he’s at least as clever.
Magariel’s slim novel (under 180 pages) somehow, miraculously, manages to evolve slowly, building a haunting and tender experience that novels double One of the Boys’ size struggle to achieve ... Daniel Magariel is a name to remember because what he’s delivered with his debut is an accomplished work of dazzling, lyrical prose combined with riveting storytelling. The result is explosive and powerful. Magariel demands our attention. He’s more than earned it with One of the Boys.
Scenes of paternal neglect under the Southwestern sky call to mind certain chunks of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Told from the younger son’s point of view, Magariel’s debut is a stunning discussion of parent-child loyalty, masculinity, and how the only person we can truly save is ourselves.
Narrated by his 12-year-old son, we see how the children are manipulated and soon victimised by their father’s propensity for cruelty. The accounts of the endless beatings (inevitably followed by disingenuous apologies) are described in vivid yet spare prose. The tone also creates a jarring disconnect; the laconic, sometimes wry writing is too knowing and too literary (‘back curved like a parenthesis’) to ever convince as the voice of a scared, and scarred, child.
Joining Tobias Wolff's This Boy’s Life in its brilliant picture of a boyhood twisted by abuse and Justin Torres' We the Animals in both its concision and its portrait of the bond between brothers, Magariel’s debut is sure, stinging, and deeply etched, like the outlines of a tattoo. Belongs on the short shelf of great books about child abuse.
The urgent present action of the novel—in which the brothers adapt to their new life while tiptoeing around their erratic and largely absent father—is combined with flashbacks portraying life before the family’s collapse, ultimately creating a stunning and tragic portrait of both the joys and limitations of love.