One of the Boys

One of the Boys

by Daniel Magariel

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Overview

A “gripping and heartfelt” (The New York Times Book Review) story about two young brothers contending with the love they have for their abusive father, One of the Boys is “one of the most striking debut novels of the year” (Rolling Stone).

The three of them—a twelve-year-old boy, his older brother, their father—have won the war: the father’s term for his bitter divorce and custody battle. They leave their Kansas home and drive through the night to Albuquerque, eager to begin again, united by the thrilling possibility of carving out a new life together. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, make friends. Meanwhile their father works from home, smoking cheap cigars to hide another smell. But soon the little missteps—the dead-eyed absentmindedness, the late night noises, the comings and goings of increasingly odd characters—become worrisome, and the boys find themselves watching their father change, grow erratic, then dangerous.

Set in the sublimely stark landscape of suburban New Mexico and a cramped apartment shut tight to the world, One of the Boys conveys with propulsive prose and extraordinary compassion a young boy’s struggle to hold onto the pieces of his shattered family. Tender, moving and beautiful, Daniel Magariel’s debut is a masterful story of resilience and survival. With the emotional core of A Little Life and the speed of We the Animals, it is “A knockout...A shimmering, heartbreaking portrait of children fiercely devoted to a damaged parent and of the intense sibling bond that helps them through” (People).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501156182
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 03/14/2017
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 741,481
File size: 959 KB

About the Author

Daniel Magariel is an author from Kansas City. His work has appeared in Granta, Lit Hub, Salt Hill, Stop Smiling, and Issue Magazine, among others. One of the Boys, his first novel, was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and Amazon Best Book of 2017, and was published in twelve countries. He has a BA from Columbia University, as well as an MFA from Syracuse University, where he was a Cornelia Carhart Fellow. He currently lives in New York with his wife. Visit him at DanielMagariel.com.

Read an Excerpt

One of the Boys


  • My father was swerving around cars, speeding, honking. I rested my head on the strap of the seat belt, tried to ignore how fast he was driving, unsure if he was outrunning the storm or just angry with me. My mother and I had gotten into a fight. She’d called him to come pick me up from her apartment. He resented any dealings with her. It was midday, spring. A shadow crept across the fields. Crows looked on from power lines. The warning sirens wailed.

    “Let me look at you,” he said. He thumbed my earlobe. “Well?”

    I looked to the road to remind him he was driving.

    “What did she tell you?” I asked.

    “You answer a question with a question? She said you were out of control.”

    “That’s it?”

    “Why is your face so red?” he said.

    Embarrassed, I went quiet, kept to myself. He knew I’d been crying. When we pulled into his driveway, I opened the door. He told me to shut it. I slammed it too hard.

    “I was supposed to go to the movies,” I said. “I’d made plans.”

    “Before the tornado watch?”

    I nodded.

    He repeated the question.

    “Yes, before.”

    “Go on.”

    “I told her I was leaving, and she blocked the door, so I grabbed the phone and ran to my room.”

    “So today’s the day she decides to start being a mother.” He laughed wildly. “She had to hold you down?” he said, almost not a question. “Did she hurt you?”

    I tried to remember. She had wrestled me to the bed. Then I was on my stomach. She twisted my fingers, took the phone. I tried throwing her off. That was when her hand holding the phone came down on my head. Now I fingered the tender spot on my skull, pressed it hard, wanting the pain, wishing the bump were visible.

    “I don’t know,” I said. “No.”

    “Did she hit you?”

    “I don’t think she meant to.”

    He pulled me close, put his arms around me, patted my back to the rhythm of the wipers. It was an awkward hug. The kind of embrace you give to a grieving stranger. “It’s OK, son,” he said. “It’s OK.” He sat me up. My older brother was standing in front of the Jeep, palms to the sky, shrugging at the rain just now quickening. “Let’s go inside.”

    * * *

    My father equated the granting of privacy with respect. Even when our bedroom doors were open, he knocked, waited to be invited in. We did not yet know why sometimes, when his door was closed, he did not answer. Since the separation he’d assigned each of us our own bathroom. His was still the master, upstairs, the same one he’d once shared with our mother. My brother’s, the hallway bathroom, was on the same floor as our bedrooms. To decide who would get it our dad had measured the distance with footsteps—my brother’s door was closer than mine. Two floors down next to the basement was my bathroom. Only on those late nights when, staring out my window, cigar tip aglow, my father would whisper me awake, Be my eyes, was I allowed to use the hallway bathroom, and only because he’d entered my bedroom without asking.

    Here, in my bathroom, the Weather Channel spoke to us from the television in the basement. My brother looked at the Polaroids developing on the sink top. The ghostly shapes taking my form. My downcast eyes. My messy hair I’d made messier, shirt collar I had stretched to look rougher. My father seemed displeased.

    “You look too good,” he said. “You were in much worse shape when I picked you up, weren’t you?”

    It was a question meant to convince my brother.

    “Yes,” I said.

    “Maybe more light?” my brother said.

    He brought the lamp from the basement, plugged it in, tilted back the shade.

    “Now, son, try to look how you felt when she hit you.”

    My father pressed the button. A photo reeled from the mouth of the camera. My brother placed it on the pile. We waited.

    “Lamp help?” my father asked.

    My brother shook his head.

    “Fuck,” my father said.

    I held my breath, bit my lip until it bled, then took a bigger bite.

    Two more photos.

    “What do you think?” my father asked my brother. “What else can we try?”

    “Makeup?” my brother suggested.

    “You got any?” my father asked.

    “Upstairs,” I answered. “Next to his dolls and tampons.”

    “I could try slapping him?” my brother joked. “That might work.”

    My father turned to me. “How would you feel about that, son?”

    My brother started to say something, that he’d been kidding, but my father silenced him. I’d hesitated too long.

    “I thought you wanted to come with us,” my father said to me.

    “I do.”

    “I thought you were one of the boys.”

    “I am.”

    “Swear to me.”

    “I did already.”

    My father set down the camera.

    “Why don’t you make him swear,” I said, pointing at my brother.

    “Because you’re the one who tells your mother everything,” he said.

    “Please, just do it,” my brother said. “Just swear.”

    “You can stay in Kansas,” my father said. He turned to walk out of the bathroom. “Your brother and I are leaving without you.”

    “No, Dad,” my brother said.

    “Fine,” I said. “I swear. Again.”

    My father came back into the bathroom, picked up the camera. He put his hands on my shoulders, rotated me square with him.

    “Close your eyes,” he said.

    I closed them.

    “I want you to listen to me. Are you listening? When you were born, I mean right after the birth, your mother didn’t want to hold you, either of you. She passed you off to me as soon as the doctor handed you over. I’d never seen anything like it. I mean, what kind of mother doesn’t want to hold her baby? I can deal with the fact that she’s never been much of a wife to me. But the terrible mother she’s been to you? That has burned me for years. Don’t you remember what I was like when you were young? Before the war?” War was the word he used for divorce. “I used to be a kid. We used to play together. The three of us. Remember?” Yes, I thought to myself, I remember. My brother and I are sitting on the carpet watching TV when suddenly we hear a low growl. We look at each other. There is no time to react. My heart quickens the instant before our dad on hands and knees crawls into the living room, roars. We climb all over him, working together to tackle the beast. “Do you remember, son?”

    “Yes.”

    He squeezed my shoulders.

    “This will end the war,” he said. “No custody. No child support. This will get us free. Free to start our lives over. You’ll see. In New Mexico I’ll be a kid again. We’ll all be kids again. How’s that sound? Isn’t that what you want?”

    I nodded.

    I heard my father load the camera.

    My brother, I could feel, stepped toward me.

    My eyes still closed, I locked my wrists behind my back. The beast is defeated, sprawled out on the carpet. My brother and I are lying on his stomach, facing each other. My brother’s hair is darker than mine. Skin too. His coloring betrays a natural alliance with our father. They have the same sleepy, smiling eyes, which in sunlight turn brown as a bottle. I’m blond like our mother, with her hazel eyes. My ears, though, are my dad’s, big like when he was my age. As the beast breathes, our heads rise and fall together, and with a smile he stole from our dad, which our dad probably stole from a movie, my brother’s lips reveal his top row of teeth like a slow-rising curtain. I opened my eyes. My brother’s arm was drawn back, ready to swing. I did not want him to hit me. I did not want him to have to hit me.

    “Wait,” I said.

    “What?” my father said.

    In the mirror I remade my face with sorrow. This will get us free, I told myself. This was what they needed from me. With my right hand I slapped my right cheek. The left cheek with my left hand, then again, harder, alternating sides, following through a little further each time so that eventually my head turned not from the flinch but from the blow. With my right, with my left, with my right, with my left. I faced my father. “Now,” I said. “Take it now.” I showed him my cheek. “This angle.” With my right, my right, my right. “Again,” I said. “Another. Take another.”

    My brother pulled each photo from the mouth of the camera. My father kept clicking until the button stuck. After they developed, we chose five of the Polaroids to show Child Protective Services.

    * * *

    An hour later, rain streaming down the one window, the basement had grown dark. The three of us quietly watched the weather report. The storm, which at first had looked like an amoeba shifting across the screen, had become unmoving bands of red and orange, as if the television had frozen, or the storm had turned sedentary, a new land formation across eastern Kansas. My father was hunched over in his chair, the heels of his shoes clamped to the bottom rung. He was about to spring.

    “Let’s go hunt twisters,” he said.

    We drove to the water tower.

    Darkness advanced, not from the east, but the west. From the clouds at the front of the storm there was lightning. An enormous flock of birds warped in the wind. My father offered a reward to whoever spotted the first tornado. We stayed there for some time, our eyes peeled, closely surveying the horizon. But we saw none and eventually drove off. At home our fence had been torn from the ground. When my father saw the damage, he laughed and said, “Looks like the storm was hunting us,” and after we moved to New Mexico, he referenced this whenever something worked out, and also whenever something did not.

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for One of the Boys includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
    .
    Introduction

    A twelve-year-old boy, his older brother, and their father leave their Kansas home after framing their mother as an abusive parent, only to find real abuse in their new home in Albuquerque. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, try to forge a new life, but their manipulative, increasingly drug-addicted father keeps them from attaining anything like normalcy. He becomes more unstable, more controlling, more violent. And soon the brothers’ only hope for survival is each other and their willingness to defend themselves against the father whose love they once thought made them a family.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. None of the members of this family—either of the brothers, their father, or their mother—are given names in the novel. Why do you think Magariel made this choice? What is its effect?

    2. Convincing the narrator to commit more seriously to the ploy of taking photos that would incriminate his mother, the boy’s father tells him, “I thought you were one of the boys” (page 5). Why do you think this is the line that gives the book its title, and why does it motivate the brothers to go along with their father’s plan?

    3. Given that the three main characters are male and the title of the book seems on the surface to be an affirmation of masculinity, do you think there are ways Magariel is in fact undermining these notions? Is there a lens through which to consider the story as pro-women or even feminist?

    4. What role do the setting and landscape of Albuquerque play in the novel?

    5. The narrator remarks, “For the most part I liked it when my father was high” (page 37). How do you make sense of this? What does it reveal about growing up in a household with drug-addicted parents?

    6. The boys’ father makes the boys look at each other and tells them, “This is your brother for life. You are his last line of defense” (page 51). How do the brothers protect each other from their father? And what does it reveal about their father that he, the one who abuses them, gives them this advice?

    7. The narrator remembers a plot of his and his brother’s to hurt their mother by making her fall down the stairs. They tell her afterward, “We hate you.” Their father then consoles her saying, “They didn’t mean it, come back inside” (page 57). What does this powerful memory reveal about the dynamics of abuse and the way family members can be turned against each other?

    8. What is the significance of the moment at Janice’s house, when the father’s shorts are rolled up and his balls revealed to be “dangling against the sofa” (page 78)? Does it suggest something about his lack of control, the degree to which his power may ultimately be a pose?

    9. What do you make of the mother’s betrayal when she encourages the boys to forgive and trust their father again after everything they’ve been through? How do you think the father was able to win her over? How are abuse, enabling, and manipulation related?

    10. After being confronted with their lack of options, the narrator reflects about his father, “Our dad was an act with a single end. His trajectory: down, down, down” (page 127). Does this feel accurate to you? How can someone so self-destructive still be so charismatic and seductive?

    11. How do you interpret the recurring motif of the father’s asking the boys to “be his eyes”? Is it connected to the narrator’s claim, trying to excuse his presence in his father’s room during his attempted escape, “I’m an extension of you” (page 139)?

    12. In one of the story’s final moments, the narrator opens the door to his brother and the officer waiting outside. When he does so, his “eyes filled with water, and light rushed in” (page 155). What do you make of the image of light coming into their dark home near the book’s conclusion? Does it provide any reason to be optimistic about the boys’ fate?

    13. Magariel makes the striking choice of ending the novel by going back in time to the first days of the boys’ trip out to Albuquerque, when they were still hopeful about their future. What do you think this accomplishes? How does this epilogue change your experience of the book as a whole?

    14. Magariel has said that there is an autobiographical component to this novel, that it is an extreme version of certain aspects of his life. Does knowing that affect the way you view it? Why do you think he made the decision to tell this story as fiction?

    15. One of the Boys is a very short novel, covering a relatively small span of time. How did its length affect your reading experience? Do you think it was easier to digest the violence and harrowing nature of the story because of its quick, short form?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Read another very short novel about a fractured family confronting questions of abuse, We the Animals by Justin Torres. Discuss how the two novels are similar or different.

    2. Be “the eyes” of someone in your book club. Look out a window and describe what you see to your partner, then discuss what the experience is like.

    Customer Reviews

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    One of the Boys 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
    BrandieC More than 1 year ago
    I'm not sure why I expected Daniel Magariel's One of the Boys to be a thriller; perhaps it was the publisher's references to "late night noises," "the comings and goings of increasingly odd characters," and violence. As it turns out, One of the Boys is not a thriller in the sense of a novel which elicits feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, or anticipation, although the sense of anxiety is palpable. Instead, it is something much richer and deeper. The family at the center of One of the Boys is a textbook example of dysfunctionality, with rampant physical and emotional abuse battering the two brothers who, along with their father, are the "boys" of the title. What made this book stand out for me was Magariel's decision to use the younger boy as a first-person narrator recounting events as they occur. I don't think I've ever seen such brutality described in such a matter-of-fact tone by a child, as if he sees nothing that happens as particularly surprising. To him, his life is just "business as usual." My response as a reader was disturbingly visceral; I just wanted to snatch him up and run with him as fast and as far away as possible. Parents especially should brace themselves before opening this book, which insists upon being read in a single sitting. I also recommend that you have your children nearby when you reach the end; I guarantee that you're going to need a hug. This review was based on a free ARC provided by the publisher.
    ecr More than 1 year ago
    What a disappointment. My impression of this book is nothing like the 4-5 star ratings posted for this book. The author does a satisfactory job of describing the family dysfunction - but by itself - that does not make for a good story. The writing style is ordinary at best. Pass on this one.
    ecr More than 1 year ago
    What a disappointment. My impression of this book is nothing like the 4-5 star ratings posted for this book. The author does a satisfactory job of describing the family dysfunction - but by itself - that does not make for a good story. The writing style is ordinary at best. Pass on this one.
    Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
    The boys were confused, they don’t know who to trust or what the truth any more. All they knew was that they wanted to be together. It was the stronger one, the one who could drive their message in, that won and in this novel, it is the father who comes out the winner. Unfortunately, it was the boys who lose. This was a short novel but it had all the feels and the power of a very long story. It was like sliding down a long tunnel, the story becoming more desperate the more that I read. I saw his boys, his own children being held captive by their father, a man who was strict and out-of-control most of the time. His own selfish pleasures took center stage while his boys paid the price. The father played the boys against each other, for he was always the winner, for he had to be, there was no other way. This novel was shocking but it is reality. To think this occurs behind closed doors and no one knows, is mind-blowing. The author holds nothing back as this story comes at us full-force and shows us the power that one adult figure can do over innocent children. It’s a powerful story, one that you cannot walk away from without being changed. 4.5 stars I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest review. 13
    Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
    Boy oh boy, did this book have me going. If I have to put up with the dad, I don't even want to be one of the boys. Uh, huh, no how, no way. This man was an absolute psycho and that's on a good day. There is no way you can put this book down. You have to know what's going to happen next. It's like a train wreck. You know you shouldn't look. Your not supposed to look. However, you have to, you just have to, you can't help it. This book is like that. The author has you in his grips and he's not going to let you go. No friggin' way, he's got you trapped. There's lots of things going on in your mind, your thinking, "surely not". Yet you keep reading, just to see, did he? You keep reading, and "oh no, he didn't", but yes, he did. This is one book of 2017 that I soon won't forget whether I want to or not. Kudos to the author for such a memorable, thrilling, despicable (in a good way) book. Thanks to Scribner for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
    SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
    One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel is a very highly recommended debut story of survival that focuses on a father's physically and psychologically abuse toward his sons. The unnamed 12-year-old narrator, his older brother, and their father have survived a brutal divorce and custody battle referred to by the father as "the war." After the narrator participated in lying about his mother's negligence so his father could gain custody and the narrator can be "one of the boys," the three leave Kansas and move to New Mexico to begin a new life. The boys go to school and join basketballs teams while their father works from home. At first it seems that they have a chance at the good life their father promised. Soon it becomes clear to the narrator that their father will be just as violently abusive toward his sons as the father was toward their mother. He also figures out that his father is covering up a serious drug addiction. Their father is quickly headed downhill and the boys are increasingly exposed to an increasingly odd group of strangers in their home. The boys have only each other to lean on for support while they try to carefully maneuver around their father's erratic, violent drug-induced mood swings. Magariel's carefully written prose manages to capture the boys' loss of trust in their father, and the hopelessness they feel trying to figure out what to do next to survive life with him. The way the charismatic father manipulates his sons and their response is chilling. He is their father and wants what is best for them, right? Because they are "one of the boys" it's their job to protect and look out for him, right? The mixed emotions the boys experience is heart-breaking, yet realistically portrayed. This is a remarkable, stunning, brilliant, extremely well-written debut novel. At only 176 pages it can be read in one sitting, but the modest size of the novel belies the huge emotional impact on the reader. That is going to last much longer. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.