Two Nails, One Love by Alden Hayashi is a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read about a gay Japanese-American man and his complicated relationship with his mother. In full disclosure, I know and consider the author a friend.
Hayashi’s novel opens with the main character, Ethan (or Ken-chan as his mother calls him), at Newark Airport nervously awaiting his mother’s arrival from Hawaii. Born and raised in the tropical paradise of Hawaii, Ethan now lives in New York City, and this is his mother’s first visit to the East Coast. While he waits for her plane to land, he replays the last time they were together. The harsh words spoken and hurt feelings that erupted, while planning the funeral of Ken-chan’s father, fill him with anxiety.
As the story unfolds, Hayashi smoothly switches between present day and the past (both Ethan’s past and his mother’s, which we learn much more about). Ethan reminisces about his childhood in Hawaii, how his parents and to a lesser extent Ethan culturally straddle Japan and the United States. That duality is the source of a lot of misunderstanding and hurt feelings, and as Ethan grows into a young man he often finds himself at odds with his parents and in particular his Mom. It is this disconnect that leads him to keep his passion for music, plans for a career and his feelings for men to himself. Feelings of duty and shame run deep in this family and Ethan feels it profoundly as a weight he doesn’t always want to bear.
At its core, the novel centers on the loving (and somewhat complicated) relationship between mother and son. As you read the story, you can’t help but marvel at the most extraordinary life Ethan’s mother lived. She grew up as a child of priviledge in Honolulu’s Japanese American community, but was subjected to unimaginable difficulty following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While the mother-son relationship is complicated the novel is most definitely not, and I found myself staying up late reading well past my bedtime caught up in this relationship told from the perspective of a dutiful and somewhat rebellious son. I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of Hayashi’s debut novel.
If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared. The links below will take you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. You can also learn more about the author and this book online at aldenmhayashi.com.