Ivan and Misha by Michael Alenyikov
Author: Michael Alenyikov
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Fathers & Sons / New York City / Gay / Immigrants / Russian-American)
Publisher/Publication Date: Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press (10/30/2010)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Greatly liked to love!
Did I finish?: Yes, quite greedily!
One-sentence summary: Interconnected stories centering around a family of Ukrainian immigrants in New York City and their friends and lovers.
Do I like the cover?: I do -- New York City is ever present in the stories, and the punch cut vaguely looks like men staring at each other -- the twins, perhaps?
I'm reminded of...: Anne Carson, Jeanette Winterson
First line: Misha's papa had disappointed before.
Did... I read this in a day?: YES. About four hours, a little longer, another book I picked up to thumb through and found myself unable to put down.
Am... I half daydreaming of a sequel to see where the twins are now?: YES. The stories are set before 9/11 and the twins are 23. I'd love to know where they are now, how a decade has changed them.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- a beautiful collection that will steal you.
Why did I get this book?: I love fiction about immigrants.
Review: Another book I'm struggling to review because I enjoyed it so much (why is it so hard to review something really good?). This subtitle of this book is 'Stories' (as opposed to 'A Novel') but there's more cohesion in this than in some novels I've read. The stories center around fraternal twins Ivan and Misha, Ukrainian immigrants living in New York City, and their small sphere: their father Louie, Misha's boyfriend Smith, Ivan's lovers and confidantes. Each story begins almost in the middle -- it would take me a minute or two to figure out who the focus of the story was, when the story was set -- but despite my brief disorientation, I read on because the characters so intrigued me.
There's a bittersweet sadness to the stories that comes from the few secrets kept between the brothers, the tension of family and the other people who want them (or worse, don't). I don't read much fiction about fathers and sons, but certainly I could relate to the uncomfortable agony of a frustrating parent or sibling. The secondary characters aren't just foils for Ivan, Misha, and Louie -- they're vibrant and have their own complicated back stories, jostling for the reader's attention the way they jostled for Ivan and Misha's attention. This is a book that will stick: I'm wishing for a sequel, so to speak, so I can see where the twins are now, a decade later, and if they've found happiness and peace and love.
Alenyikov's writing style was the star for me: the narrative is nearly dreamy, a mix of dialogue and stream-of-consciousness, flashback and action. That makes it sound very convoluted, but it isn't; I was reminded of Jeanette Winterson and Anne Carson, maybe Michael Cunningham a little. Alenyikov created unease, quietude, or amped-up anxiousness with his writing style, depending on who the focus of each story was, and I loved that even the prose had personality.
New Yorkers will want to read this as Ivan is a cabbie and the city looms and supports, a constant backdrop to the stories. (There's a bit with a Mormon missionary looking at the nighttime skyline, and he says: "They say it's a godless place, but unless it's the devil's work, this is, well, you know, it looks like heaven." I figured New Yorkers would crow with delight.) Still, whether you're blessed to be from New York City or not, pick up this book: it's a slender read (less than 200 pages), but meaty, a wonderful and heartbreaking look at love, family, and belonging.
*** *** ****
I'm thrilled to offer a signed copy of Ivan and Misha to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this simple form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 9/23.