Ivan and Misha: Storiesby Michael Alenyikov
The linked stories in this powerful debut by Michael Alenyikov swirl around the titular fraternal twins and their father, Louie, as they make their way from the oppressive world of Soviet-era Kiev to the frenetic world of New York City in the late nineties and early aughts. Ivan, like his father, is a natural seducer and gambler who always has a scheme afoot
The linked stories in this powerful debut by Michael Alenyikov swirl around the titular fraternal twins and their father, Louie, as they make their way from the oppressive world of Soviet-era Kiev to the frenetic world of New York City in the late nineties and early aughts. Ivan, like his father, is a natural seducer and gambler who always has a scheme afoot between fares in his cab and stints in Bellevue for his bipolar disorder. Misha, more haunted than his brother by the death of their mother after their birth, is ostensibly the voice of reason.
Socially adrift, father and sons search for meaning in their divergent romantic relationships. Louie embarks on a traditional heterosexual dating relationship late in life, while Ivan is sexually opportunistic and omnivorous, and Misha,a young gay man, is torn between his family and the prospect of a committed relationship. The brothers’ search for connection leads them through a multitude of subcultures, all depicted in vivid detail. An evocative and frank exploration of identity, loss, dislocation, and sexuality, Ivan and Misha marks the arrival of a unique, authentic voice.
Carolyn Cooke, author of The Bostons and Daughters of the Revolution
"For the Russian immigrant twins who are the main characters of Ivan and Misha, everyday existence consists of heartbreak, love, and the unexpected. With exuberance and dark humor, Michael Alenyikov depicts their life in New York. These wonderful connected stories are full of warmth, psychological insight, and winning originality."
Alice Mattison, author of Nothing Is
Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn "A haunting collectionof love and duty. There ismuch to admire on every page."
Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody’s Daughter
- Northwestern University Press
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- 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)
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Meet the Author
Michael Alenyikov’s short stories have appeared in Canada’s Descant, the Georgia Review, New York Stories, and the James White Review, and have been anthologized in Best Gay Stories 2008 and Tartts Four: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers. His essays have appeared in the Gay & Lesbian Review. He was a MacDowell Fellow in 2004–5, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007. Raised in New York City, Alenyikov has worked as a bookstore clerk, a clinical psychologist, a cab driver, an interactive media writer, and a consultant. He lives in San Francisco.
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First of all, I love short stories. When they are done right, they are short, brilliantly told glimpses into the character's life as they experience some sort of conflict or decision. When they are done wrong, they can be chaotic in pace and tell a story so full of holes, it seems you are reading a rather large piece of Swiss cheese. Thankfully this collection falls into that first category. It's a fascinating novel told within the bounds of unsequential short stories. What I loved about his book is how it, despite the secondary characters, narrowed in on the rather symbiotic (borderline parasitic) relationship between the two brothers, who are fraternal twins. Relationships between siblings can often times be complicated, messy things with boundaries being crossed countless times. Things are no different between Ivan & Misha. They are constantly involved with the most personal things in each other's lives, sometimes making others a bit jealous. They had a rather traumatic childhood, involving the the death of their mother and a sudden move to a new country, all at a very young age. Those two events shaped the rest of their lives in ways both good and bad. They never knew the truth of their mother's death because their father didn't want to burden them with the sickness that slowly took her life. Instead he told them that she died after giving birth to them. I think that's the first mistake he made. That death, and as a result their mother, took on an almost mythical role in their lives. The story of a mother who dies in able for her children to be born, becomes an example of love that nothing else can ever possibly reach. It's an a goal that can never be reached by anyone else. For me, it's that struggle for love that shapes both of their lives. Because of that warped sense of what pure loves is, it sends both boys down roads and into relationships with those that can never truly be there for them. Ivan, at a young age, becomes involved with an older man who can never fully commit and gives him HIV. His next serious relationship, with Smith, is with a younger man who not only can't really commit to Ivan, despite really loving him, but can't commit to a name or an identity for himself. Misha craves love from his father and anyone else that will have him. He has an almost manic need to be wanted by someone, a need that he will turn back around on his brother. It's that last part that shapes their bond more than anything else. I know quite a few of the reviews I've read take issue with the way the second story ends in the book. For some it was an action that came out of the blue or was added for the shock value. When it first happened, I will admit to feeling a little unsure of it myself. I wasn't able to understand why it was happening or the necessity for it. Once I finished the book, it made a little more sense to me. The action takes place in such a profound moment of grief and despair that they both need something to grasp onto as an anchor to keep them slipping over the edge. After getting to know them, I not only don't think it was out of character for their relationship, but I think that it was almost inevitable. I could be off base and totally wrong, there may have been another reason for it to happen, but I don't think it was for the shock value. Ivan & Misha was one of those rare books that keeps my attention long after I've finished it. Michael Alenyikov writes with one of th
Ivan and Misha was the only story that managed to touch my black heart this year. Bravo Mr. Alenyikov. I hope to read more from you soon.