Only the Lonely

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Asim, gay and 19, is ready to bust out of his rundown steel town, Lackawanna, N.Y., for the University of Michigan. Even the cherished family business — a movie house called The Bethlehem — and its nightly dose of celluloid dreams no longer captivate him. But the bright future he envisions is turned upside down when his father dies and leaves him with the keys to the theater and the job of caring for the old man’s Russian lover.  As if he needs another problem, he discovers that his brother Tarik is ...

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Overview

 

Asim, gay and 19, is ready to bust out of his rundown steel town, Lackawanna, N.Y., for the University of Michigan. Even the cherished family business — a movie house called The Bethlehem — and its nightly dose of celluloid dreams no longer captivate him. But the bright future he envisions is turned upside down when his father dies and leaves him with the keys to the theater and the job of caring for the old man’s Russian lover.  As if he needs another problem, he discovers that his brother Tarik is headed off to some kind of training camp in the Afghanistan desert, and when he returns, he ensnarls Asim and others in a dangerous fanaticism that peaks on September 11, 2001.

Gary Zebrun’s first novel, Someone You Know, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. The recipient of Yaddo, MacDowell and Bread Loaf fellowships, he is the Sunday news editor at The Providence Journal, in Rhode Island. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Iowa Review, Sewanee Review, The Believer Book of Writers Talking To Writers, and elsewhere.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Asim Zahid, the unassuming 19-year-old protagonist of Zebrun's refreshing 9/11 novel (after Someone You Know), is gay, runs a theater in Lackawanna, N.Y., and has a brother who has disappeared to Afghanistan to prepare for jihad. The book begins the week before 9/11 with Asim receiving an ominous delivery: a package from his brother, Tarik, containing the skull of a Jewish boy. As Tarik's motivations become clear, Asim finds something like comfort in a friendship with his dead father's ex-lover, Sonia. Both Asim and Sonia are steeped in isolation and depend on films to find context for their lives, comparing people to actors and real-life events to famous film scenes. Lackawanna, meanwhile, gets some big city problems-a priest is stabbed, a small business owner is murdered and a homemade bomb makes an appearance. Though some developments are a bit outlandish, Zebrun moves the story along easily and never predictably as the fateful event draws near and life-changing decisions are made. With his memorable cast and nicely underplayed big themes, Zebrun delivers a new and worthy perspective on the 9/11 experience. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Coming of age in a dying American town is hard enough. But if you're Middle Eastern and gay... It's early 2001 in the small industrial town of Lackawanna, just south of Buffalo. Asim Zahid is on the verge of adulthood and anxious to escape to the University of Michigan, but tying up loose ends at home as well as the prospect of a new love provide thorny obstacles. The new love is an improbably easygoing redhead named Billy, and the very ease of this budding relationship causes Asim to question it. The major loose end comes in the person of the fragile Sonia, whose sense of reality is skewed by a lifelong immersion in classic old films. The Latvian-born Sonia was the mistress of Asim's recently deceased father, and Asim promised to look after her as well as the Bethlehem Theater, the movie house which has been the family business for decades. Both Asim and Sonia have literally hundreds of films as reference points. (An early scene finds them comparing the relative merits of big-screen James Bonds, past and present.) Indeed, their film-viewing histories frame their observations of the world around them. While the chapters from Asim's perspective are bathed in longing, Sonia dreamily morphs memories of past films into her analysis of a bedside clock, a homeless man, Asim's current mood, etc. The third character in the family mix is Asim's angry brother Tarik, who impugns the sexuality of both Asim and his father (correctly, it turns out). Tarik, who also has his cinematic influences, may be edging into a terrorist cell, less from political conviction than from inner turbulence. Despite a dearth of plot, Zebrun's ruminative second novel (Someone You Know, 2004) captivates through thecomplexity and vulnerability of its characters and the excellence of its prose, polished to a luminous transparency. Agent: Michael Bourret/Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593500849
  • Publisher: Alyson Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 10.96 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Zebrun is the editor of The Providence Journal. A graduate of Brown University, he is the recipient of a Yaddo fellowship, a MacDowell fellowship, and a Breadloaf fellowship, and previously taught creative writing at the University of Michigan before
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2009

    Worthwhile, Powerful

    "Only the Lonely" is a powerfully written novel about a gay Arab-American young man set in the week leading up to 9/11. Asim runs a movie theatre that he inherited from his recently departed father while he longs to leave his upstate New York city and go to college. Cultural and religious pressures come to bear from an older brother Tarik who is swept up in a terrorism plot. The story takes some suprising turns and leads to a tragic yet inevitable ending. Gary Zebrun's novel treads new ground; it's a worthwhile book--short yet packs an emotional punch as it provides insight into another culture.

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