Monday, September 19, 2011
Ivan And Misha by Michael Alenyikov (Plus Giveaway)
Synopsis From Back Cover:
As the Soviet Union collapses, two young brothers are whisked away from Kiev by their father to start life anew in America. The intricately linked stories in this powerful debut, set in New York City at the turn of the millennium, swirl about the uneasy bond between fraternal twins, Ivan and Misha, devoted brothers who could not be more different: Bipolar Ivan, like their father, is a natural seducer, a gambler who always has a scheme afoot between fares in his cab and stints in Bellevue. Misha struggles to create a sense of family with his quixotic boyfriend, Smith, his wildly unpredictable brother, and their father, Lyov ("Call me Louie!"), marooned in Brighton Beach yet ever the ladies' man. Father and sons are each haunted by the death of Sonya, a wife to Lyov, a mother to his sons.
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 from 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 the most lyrical voices I've had the pleasure to read in a very long time. He is able to create unique characters and put them into a world that I found both real and unsettling at the same time.
I would like to thank Lisa of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book. Visit the tour page to read other reviews.
Now for the giveaway. One lucky commenter, US/Canada only, will win a brand new copy of the book. All you need to do is leave a comment with your email address. If you want to let me know of a short story or short story collection that you loved, feel free to do so. The giveaway will run until 11:59 PM CST on 10/3/11.