Coming of age in a dying American town is hard enough. But if you’re Middle Eastern and gay...
It’s early 2001 in the small industrial town of Lackawanna, just south of Buffalo. Asim Zahid is on the verge of adulthood and anxious to escape to the University of Michigan, but tying up loose ends at home as well as the prospect of a new love provide thorny obstacles. The new love is an improbably easygoing redhead named Billy, and the very ease of this budding relationship causes Asim to question it. The major loose end comes in the person of the fragile Sonia, whose sense of reality is skewed by a lifelong immersion in classic old films. The Latvian-born Sonia was the mistress of Asim’s recently deceased father, and Asim promised to look after her as well as the Bethlehem Theater, the movie house which has been the family business for decades. Both Asim and Sonia have literally hundreds of films as reference points. (An early scene finds them comparing the relative merits of big-screen James Bonds, past and present.) Indeed, their film-viewing histories frame their observations of the world around them. While the chapters from Asim’s perspective are bathed in longing, Sonia dreamily morphs memories of past films into her analysis of a bedside clock, a homeless man, Asim’s current mood, etc. The third character in the family mix is Asim’s angry brother Tarik, who impugns the sexuality of both Asim and his father (correctly, it turns out). Tarik, who also has his cinematic influences, may be edging into a terrorist cell, less from political conviction than from inner turbulence.
Despite a dearth of plot, Zebrun’s ruminative second novel (Someone You Know, 2004) captivates through the complexity and vulnerability of its characters and the excellence of its prose, polished to a luminous transparency.