Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Review: My Father's House
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended (with tissues at hand)
Publisher: Main St. Rag
So. You know how I've been reviewing Ben Tanzer's books for awhile now, right? And you know how I think this guy can do no wrong as an author, right? Ok... just so we're clear...
My Father's House is the newest of Ben's books, published this August through Main St. Rag. Dealing heavily with one son's worry, anxiety, and grief over the slow, cancerous death of his father, it was almost too uncomfortably intimate for me.
I don't have to know Ben well to know that a lot of what he has written here was drawn from personal experience. It cuts too close to the bone to be truly fictional. As I read My Father's House, I saw it as Ben's way of publicly expressing what it is like to lose a parent to the front row horror show that is Cancer. It felt like a cleaning of the slate and of properly saying goodbye. And I felt it was a true reflection of the chaotic feelings that rush through you from moment to moment, day to day, when preparing yourself for the ultimate and unavoidable loss of someone you can't imagine living without.
About nine years ago, I lost my step-father to cancer. I watched him fight and struggle and recover and fight some more. I saw him beat out the odds and break the doctors anticipated life expectancy only to slowly suffer and fade away from us, and Ben's book brought all of those old thoughts and inner-emotions rushing back to me.
In his novel, his unnamed character deals with his grief and simultaneously stuffs his emotions by lacing up his shoes and running, or heading out the bar to get loaded, or fucking other women (or, more truthfully, one particular nutcase) behind his wife's back. He tells stories about his father to anyone who will listen. They refuses to open up to each other, though, and say the things that they knows they should.
This book is a departure from Ben's much lighter-hearted look at socially awkward thirty-somethings in a pop culture saturated world. It should come with it's own Kleenex warning - "Keep Tissues Close When Reading". Though I very rarely ever get choked up while reading a book, this one had me close... I was right on the edge towards the end, as the reality of things really start setting in for our narrator.
It's a positive sign, for me, when an author connects with you in such an emotional way; when you are able to find something that you can relate to and empathize with. It's not often I can put myself (halfway) in their shoes....
Here's a cute interview of Ben, conducted and recorded by his son, on the novel: