Review: Ivan and Misha: Stories by Michael Alenyikov
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Short Stories
Release Date: October 30th, 2010
Publisher: Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press
Source: Copy provided by TLC Book Tours
Sometimes there are books that make me feel so emotionally raw and at the author's mercy that I just can't stop reading. A mark of a great storyteller is the ability to get the reader to feel such a deep connection to characters with many issues and flaws. After the shocking ending to the first story I was reluctant to continue, but I am so glad I did. Ivan and Misha was a book full of wonderfully succinct and poetic writing that dreamily carries the reader through the lives of a group of people dealing with life, love, and family in modern day New York City.
Michael Alenyikov presents seven connected short stories, including a prologue and epilogue, that center around two twin brothers Ivan and Misha. During the 1980's, their father Louis brings the young boys to New York City from the USSR in search of a new life as well as a new mother. Fast forward to a pre-9/11 new millennium world, and you will find two twenty something immigrants who have embraced their new American culture. On the surface, the two are quite different. Misha is tall, blond, a film student at Columbia, and openly gay with a live-in boyfriend. Ivan is short with dark hair, a cab driver, and very open in terms of sexuality and preference. Despite their differences the brothers have a strong, unbreakable bond. The stories within this collection jump back and forth chronologically and use different narrators to fully explore the complexity that lies within both Ivan and Misha.
What sets this collection apart from many others is the cohesion of each story. At times this felt more like a novel with each story being long enough and fully fleshed out. Though the shift in chronology confused me at first, I thought it helped me really focus on the story while trying to think and piece things together. There are many themes and ideas that Alenyikov revisits that I might have missed if the story hadn't kept refocusing my reading. Also, the secondary characters, such as Misha's boyfriend Smith or the father Louis, weren't just cardboard cutouts. Each had a back story and personality. There wasn't a point where I felt a character or action was superfluous.
Overall, the prose had a wonderful flow that keeps the readability easy, which I think is essential to any work that tackles such important topics as sexuality, death, AIDS, and mental health. The author, while being very emotionally raw, deals with many real LGBT issues without alienating readers or becoming a caricature. I must say that I had never heard of this collection or the author before being contacted by TLC Tours. However, Ivan and Misha is a heartbreaking book provides much insight into everyday moments that I think anyone who appreciates thought-provoking literature should read.