Clinging To, Yet Rejecting, the Past

In ‘Only the Lonely,’ author Gary Zebrun shows noir promise.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer.

OnlytheLonelyIf someone close to you asked you to do something important, would you? Would you give up your dreams to fulfill a wish, or would you give lip-service to a promise and do what you want in the end, knowing that a corpse can’t make you follow through?

 In the new novel Only the Lonely (Alyson Books) by Gary Zebrun, a man makes a promise to his father, but he can’t keep it. His brother holds the key to the reason why.

 When he was five years old, Asim Zahid caught his father naked in the projection room of the Bethlehem theater. Asim had heard voices, and he knew his father was in the room with that goofy Russian woman, Sonia. Strangely, it wasn’t until after his father’s death that Asim actually spoke to the woman. By then, she was wracked with tremors from Parkinson’s disease, and a bit addled in the head.

 Asim’s father had asked him once to take care of Sonia if something bad happened. He also asked Asim to run the Bethlehem theater. Showing old movies was a good living, and it seemed like there were always people who wanted to see a film. Even Sonia showed up every opening night.

Gary Zebrun

But if keeping an eye on a dotty old woman wasn’t enough work, Asim had to deal with his brother, Tarik. In a drawer of his dead father’s desk, Asim found a plane ticket to Afghanistan in Tarik’s name, and Tarik was pressuring Asim to follow him on a jihad. Asim, though, had no intention of following an imam or a jihad or anything like that. He had only promised his father that he would take care of Sonia. Besides, for the first time in his life, Asim finally found love.

 The Irishman peeking out of the window of the bar across from the Bethlehem couldn’t be missed. Billy had a shock of red hair and he was older than Asim. After a few nights of back-and-forth watching, Billy approached Asim and kissed him.

 With careful eyes, Sonia watched, bemused. She missed Asim’s father, and she missed her Nicky. Was she wrong to remember that Nicky loved her – or did he love Asim’s father more? As the movie screen flickered with stars she barely remembered, she pondered what she couldn’t recall.

 Then, on the morning of September 11, 2001, Tarik returned.

Much like the old black-and-white movies that Sonia loved, Only the Lonely reads a bit like an old, artsy independent film. This novel, in fact, reminded me so much of a modern-day update of The Glass Menagerie, with characters who all cling to, yet somehow reject, pasts that are only partly based in reality: Asim acknowledges his gayness but has never had a lover; Tarik embraces the religion his family has eschewed; and Sonia’s memories are confused yet heartbreaking.

 Although it’s a quick read, be aware that Only the Lonely is rather hard to get into, but once you start, you won’t stop. For noir-novel lovers, this book shows promise.

 Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. 


Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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