One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel (Scribner, New York, 2017, $22)

This terrible novel is endorsed by the famous George Saunders, and the almost-as-famous Mary Karr, “ever generous” (no kidding) teachers of Mr. Magariel at Syracuse University, where the author took his MFA. In fact, this novel could never have been published (and certainly not in such unpolished form) had not these super-star teachers shepherded the book into print. (I’m guessing here. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe George and Mary didn’t go to bat for the kid.) In his acknowledgments, the author thanks many people, including “razor-sharp” readers, first-rate editors (where were they?) and an agent, no doubt secured through the good offices of Mr. Magariel’s “teachers”. One of the Boys is a supreme example of the MFA art—superficial and hastily jotted down, burdened by a tidal-wave of serial commas, bereft of detail and short on real-life experience. The author acknowledges “George” for helping him realize his best self—by which he means, getting this wet rag published.

Here’s the nutshell—two young brothers go on the lam to New Mexico from “Kansas” with their dad, who is a drug addict and “financial advisor” with a major client. Dad holes up and does drugs. The boys experience life. Not much of the novel inspires the imagination nor is the writing in any way exceptional. Here’s a start from page one—

“My father was swerving around cars, speeding, honking. I rested my head on the strap of the seat belt, tried to ignore how fast he was driving, unsure if he was outrunning the storm or just angry with me…It was midday, spring.” You get the idea—serial commas to make up for a lack of patience with real writing.   I mean, really, what kid would think, “midday, spring”? What reader wants to read such shorthand? And what real writer wants to pile up commas like that? And that’s just the first page.

Dad gets punched “in the nose” (how quaint). “He looked around the gymnasium, stunned, an infant about to bawl, bleeding all over his shirt. I waited for my father to stand so as not to embarrass him further. (This locution is particularly bad grammar…) I followed him to the bathroom, helped him clean up.”

After a paragraph like that, you’re welcome to ask what happened to George. Where was he when most needed? The book gushes quickly by on a river of cliché. Thank God it’s short. (If one wants to read about a dad and a boy on the lam, get it on with some of Richard Ford’s early stuff set in Montana—now, there’s bone-chilling authorial skill about a young boy, a criminal father, and being on the lam).