4.5 Stars - Strongly Recommended by Lavinia
Releasing: June 2015
Guest Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow
Nine years in the making, one could say that The New York Stories is Ben Tanzer’s greatest hits collection. Hardly just a mash-up of his most provoking work, this three-volume-in-one deal is the real deal.
The thing about Tanzer is that his writing is never irresponsibly fast-paced and disorienting. Instead, he uses the space as if it’s the last he will ever have—no piece is ever more than a couple thousand words, and there’s not a single moment that wanes or bores. Each story packs a straightforward and honest anecdote with situations most can identify with—growing pains, lessons learned through trauma, family issues, falling in and out of love.
Tanzer shows us how much it can suck sometimes growing up and living in Smalltown, USA, where everyone’s privilege to everyone else’s soap opera-like drama, no one is without some dark secret(s), and if they’re not directly involved in a broken family, they’re at the sidelines witnessing the harsh realities of what abuse, cheating, cutting, and divorce does to a person. On a more granular level, stories delve into a hot-for-teacher fantasy turned reality, a neighborhood sleazebag fucking everyone’s wife, teen pregnancy, cutting, and snotty teenagers torturing the less apt. Think the childhood innocence and beauty of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood crossed with the bizarre quirks of a Scott McClanahan collection, inclusive of those reoccurring crazy assholes who drive the whole town crazy.
These tales are common and can occur in any neighborhood or household at any given time. Their conflicts aren’t mind-blowing or have fanatical twists, but the simplicity and straight-forward narratives make them that much more poignant. Everyone can identify with crappy childhoods, bullies, prepubescent moments, familial rifts, relationship tensions, personal uncertainties, and the occasional existential tailspin. Tanzer gives us a front row seat in a theater streaming the everyday person’s hurt, frustration, tension, isolation, and despair as they stumble through the trials of life. We listen with empathy and heavy hearts as they admit in their most vulnerable states of mind what most won’t dare say aloud:
“I look at her. I miss her. I really do, the intimacy, her touch, being in love, all of it… I turn around to look at her, hug her, kiss her, have her tell me it’s going to be all right, but she’s gone, the house empty, devoid of life and love and anything that used to look like it.”
“I used to wait for my dad to visit. I’d sit there by the window late at night, searching for him like a cop’s wife must do. Every shadow might be him, I thought; but no, it never was.”
The collection isn’t completely devoid of humor, and every so often, a laugh-out-loud moment breaks apart grey:
“What kind of man lets someone park in his lot without making a purchase?” Robby always says. “I’ll tell you, the same kind of man who watches another man fuck his wife.
Tanzer presents an intimate glimpse into the lives of writers, runners, sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers who can’t help but be oh-so-human at times. We have the privilege of seeing them at their most honest and vulnerable, and this summer, as you sit by the pool or lake with a cocktail/mocktail/light beer in one hand, make sure your other is clutching a copy of The New York Stories.
Check out my review of the second volume, sandwiched in The New York Stories, over at Marc Schuster’s Small Press Reviews: https://smallpressreviews.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/so-different-now/
Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press Reviews, The Nervous Breakdown, American Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog.