Funny and Heartfelt
One Man Guy
by Michael Barakiva
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Length: 255 pp
Rufus Wainwright – “One May Guy”, Live from Central Park (via YouTube)
Buy the Book
Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Why bother, when their home cooking is far superior to anything “these Americans” could come up with? 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 freshmen 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. When Ethan gets Alek to cut school and go to a Rufus Wainwright concert in New York City’s Central Park, Alek embarks on his first adventure outside the confines of his suburban New Jersey existence. 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.
Michael Barakiva’s One Man Guy is a romantic, moving, laugh-out-loud-funny story about what happens when one person cracks open your world and helps you see everything—and, most of all, yourself–like you never have before.
“I like celebrating love, in all shapes and forms.” These were my comments on the Fierce Reads Facebook page giveaway post for One Man Guy. How I wish there were more who agreed with me. Sadly, it appears we still have a way to go. While other recent giveaways garnered upwards of 150 entries, when Fierce Reads essentially asked, “Who wants a gay love story?” only 35 raised their hands.
I don’t know if it’s fear of the unknown or a need for something familiar that makes readers hesitate to try something different. If you’re not ready (or willing) to pick up One Man Guy, here’s what you’re missing:
For starters, the book begins in uproarious fashion. The demands of Alek’s highly opinionated, hard-to-please mother are torturing the poor waitress attempting to serve them. The quirkiness of the characters causes them to jump off the page. I was laughing so much at the family that I fell instantly in love with the book. John Green fans will eat this up.
You are able to identify with Alek from almost the moment you meet him. He’s been set up as a kind of good guy underdog, trying to please his parents while living in the shadow of his “perfect” older brother. Alek’s family soon leaves the scene, but they were well-enough defined before leaving that you feel you got to know them. You see Alek with his best friend Becky (who is hilarious) before any of the summer love begins. This is good in that you meet, know, and understand Alek before any feelings or sexuality questions come into the picture. This is like life. Though not always the case with outward appearances like race or ethnicity, we don’t generally walk around with labels like “straight”, “gay”, “bi”, or whatever we may identify as tattooed on our foreheads. Others get to know us as people first rather than defining us by our sexuality. That’s the way it should be anyway.
At the novel’s outset, Alek doesn’t know he’s gay. Though he does eventually share something from his back story that he can better understand in retrospect, it’s not until he’s magnetically drawn to Ethan that he starts to examine his feelings. And he doesn’t try to define things right away. He just knows he finds Ethan captivating and irresistible. It’s refreshing that Alek’s discovery of his sexuality isn’t accompanied by angst, self-loathing, and torment. I also appreciated that the love story develops slowly.
My only quibble is that Ethan is a little too much of a bad boy. I understand that he’s helping Alek stretch his wings, find himself, and loosen up a little, but it’s hard to love his facility for petty theft (riding the train into New York City without paying, or “returning” a book off the shelves at the store for store credit). One of the reasons I’m fond of Alek is that he’s got integrity; he stands up for what he feels is right. And I couldn’t help but wish that he had insisted on buying tickets for his second trip into the city. Still, by the novel’s end, Barakiva has resolved some of my issues with Ethan.
Setting, particularly New York City, plays a big role in this book, giving the guys a place to explore where anything seems possible and people are free to be whomever or whatever they want. The music of Rufus Wainwright (whose song, composed and first performed by his father, inspires the title) comes into play and helps lend atmosphere.
Behind all the humor, there are many serious topics for discussion in the novel: sexuality, self-expression, prejudice, the Armenian Genocide, family heritage, and the changing construct of family. None of the weighty topics overwhelm or predominate the story, but they do inform it and lend realism and depth. Chances are you’ll learn something!
Situations get sticky near the end, and some might feel things are too tidily and easily resolved, but I’d like to believe that the conflict is handled in the manner Barakiva feels families should — he’s modeling a best possible outcome scenario.
— Dawn Teresa
4 of 5 Hearts. Funny and Heartfelt.
This is a feel-good summer love story from a different angle, and there are readers out there who may see themselves in these pages. One Man Guy should give them hope that, surrounded by people who love and respect them, everything will be okay.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank MacTeen’s Facebook page, Fierce Reads, for their giveaway in which I was awarded an ARC. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”