...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.