[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]
Michael Alyenikov’s Ivan and Misha is a beautiful book of short stories, seven all told, if the prologue and epilogue are counted, that are loosely centered around the title characters. What really ties them together though are the variety of passionate, intense characters, and the author’s amazing descriptive writing.
Ivan and Misha are two Russian fraternal twins who emigrate to America with lots of emotional baggage. Their beautiful mother died when they were very young, and neither they nor their father—a doctor of amazing charm and personality, and a penchant for big stories, and dreams he never pursues—have got over her. She reappears over and over through the stories, the stuff of dreams and sad memories.
As intensely as they remember their mother, so do Ivan and Misha love–in a very conflicted way—their father. He brought them to America for a better life, and he too appears and reappears. He is the charming big talker of their childhood, he is the old man deteriorating before their eyes, he is the vessel of ashes that they and his best friends reverently scatter from the Staten Island Ferry.
Both gay, early on in the AIDS epidemic, Ivan and Misha maintain the same conflicted yet loving intensity with their romantic partners. Misha, the more stable of the two, seems to have longer relationships, with only two partners mentioned. Ivan, more mercurial, bounces from partner to partner, aching with love for one only to have him slip away and go home without a word. All the relationships though seem transitory: Even Smith, Misha’s current partner, anguishes over staying or going, loving or not loving. He even tries a one-time stand, but halfway through realizes he loves Misha, dresses, and leaves.