One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva
A charming young adult, boy-meets-boy story.
Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.
Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.
About the author: Michael Barakiva is an Armenian/Israeli theater director and writer who lives in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan with his husband, Rafael. He was born in Haifa, Israel and grew up in the suburbs of Central New Jersey, which were much scarier. He attended Vassar College, where he double majored in Drama and English, after which he attended the Juilliard School’s Drama Division as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Directing. He has been living in New York City since.
Review by Gerry Burnie
A few things made me choose One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva [Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), May 27, 2014]: The ‘folksy’ cover; the light-hearted presentation, and the Armenian sub-plot.
For those who might not know much about Armenia (including me), it is a former Soviet Russian satellite, located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, and is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and Nakhchivan to the south.
Culturally it is known for a number of things; particularly music and dance which are both demonstrated by Aram Khatchaturian’s spirited Sabre Dance from his ballet “Gayane.”
Central to this story, United States has a large Armenian diaspora of approximately 9 million people.
The Armenian theme plays quite a prominent role in this story, and effectively so. It adds an element of uniqueness I have not encountered before. I think a good story, whether fiction of not, should have an educational component to it. Moreover, the author worked this in seamlessly, which is the other part of it.
Alek is a 14 year old boy of Armenian descent, and like most Eastern Europeans, his parents have high expectations for their oldest son. Moreover, unlike North American parents, they know that hard work and effort is the only way to achieve it. There is, as they have said for centuries, no royal road to learning.
Therefore, Alek is sent off to summer school to improve his marks. Alek is not thrilled by this idea, but to his credit he sees his parent’s logic and agrees.
Not surprisingly—otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story—boy-meets-boy in the person of Ethan; a more typical North American adolescent—precocious, cocky, and not just a little self-centred. Nonetheless, the two hit it off famously, and eventually take the second step.
A tertiary character is also along for the ride; Alek’s friend Becky. I suspect she is there for a number of reasons. As a literary device she provides a change of voice that both Alek and Ethan can play off (it would be slightly tedious if only the viewpoint of the two boys was presented.) Secondly, as a young adult story, the unsuccessful attempt at heterosexual sex on Alek’s part says it’s no big deal. Nature has other ideas.
To that extent, it’s a thoughtful, well-constructed, and enjoyable read.
My reservations are somewhat subjective, and the subject of a debate among writers of GBLT fiction. How much acceptance should there be in the coming out process, and how much angst. All I can suggest is that is a delicate balance, for too much of one or the other can shade the novel from gleam to gloom.
In this novel I thought there was a disconnect between Alek’s highly traditional parents and their unquestioning acceptance of his homosexuality. Not disagreeably, I hasten to add, but slightly incredibly. For this reason I’m going to give it four bees, meaning it’s almost there but not quite.
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