Lost in Space
-Book Review by Michelle Junot-
Lost in Space, Ben Tanzer’s new collection of essays on fatherhood is bold, hilarious, and poignant, but most importantly, it’s authentic. The memoir is composed of twenty essays and four short interludes, recreating Tanzer’s first decade as a parent. Throughout the collection, the author explores his fears and occasional irrational thoughts, illustrating the daily struggles of his two boys, Myles and Noah. Life’s hurdles include ill-fitting socks and mid-season breaks in Glee, as well as the bigger life questions that accompany potentially dangerous dimples on the spines of brand new baby boys.
While each essay stands on its own, the collection is more than the sum of its parts and readers certainly won’t want to stop at one, two, three, or ten. Tanzer’s easy way of explaining his most existential thoughts and the vivid scenes he paints using beautifully crafted lists is powerful. Readers will finish the book before they realize what’s happened, and will crave more.
At first, the order of the essays seems haphazard, but a closer look reveals an Archimedean spiral. Each subsequent essay drills further into the heart of growth, love, death, violence, masculinity, communication, and ultimately, control. The reader never tires as Tanzer winds this way, especially with pieces that take on a unique style, like “Anatomy of a Story” or “Going Home.”
The first essay in the collection, “I Need,” puts the reader right in the middle of the exhausted chaos that raising two boys entails, especially boys with chronic insomnia. Tanzer explains that in his wildest dreams, all he wants is for his children simply to sleep through the night:
“They won’t wander around the house like extras from The Walking Dead in various states of duress, mumbling about how they cannot fall asleep…nor will they come to my side of the bed during the middle of the night after I’ve already been asleep for hours, and loom over me, barely breathing and ask, “I cannot sleep and what do you think about that?” I think I need sleep, motherfucker.”
Tanzer’s use of humor keeps his storytelling from ever feeling inauthentic or over-dramatized. His life is unpredictable and exhausting, but there are many reasons to laugh and he takes joy in the experience.
Tanzer’s relationship with his eldest son, Myles, shines through strongest. In “I Believe in You (Sketches on the Younger Child)” and the title essay, “Lost in Space,” there are hints of Noah, and also Debbie, Tanzer’s wife, but Myles stands out in the center of this world. The child’s seemingly endless colic and ear infections demand sympathy. Myles’s beautiful hair, his quiet contentment and no response, his love for all that is Glee, and the way he challenges Tanzer to tell the hard truths establishes a memorable father-son dynamic. Reviewers of this work can’t go without mentioning Tanzer’s inclusion of Myle’s explanation of “Bed Sex.” There’s no getting through that essay without laughing; it’s wonderful…
“The Unexamined Life” begins in the time shortly after Tanzer’s father’s death. He and Debbie have decided to start a family, but Tanzer is in need of escape. With his wife’s consent, he pulls away from her briefly in an emotional effort to prepare for the adventure of raising children and to mourn his father.
“…he died with regrets about things he had, and had not, done. The regrets did not make the person, but coupled with his death their impact is profound on me.”
Memories of his father recur throughout many of the essays, leading Tanzer to realize that there will come a day when he too will die, leaving Myles and Noah to live in a world without him. In “The Lion King,” Tanzer argues with himself about the simultaneous possibility and inevitability of his future death:
“‘And what about the fact that they could be fatherless like me?’ I reply.
‘What does that mean, and how do you even begin to calculate the impact of that?’”
One of the most beautiful and important moments of the book occurs in “Towers.” When Tanzer tries to calm Myles by holding him tight their interaction builds toward bigger questions:
“He stops moving around so much.
‘You can let go,’ he says.
Could you, though? Let go? Doubtful.”
Lost in Space provides many detailed and entertaining anecdotes about raising children, but the book’s best qualities are revealed throughout Tanzer’s introspective monologues illuminating the cognitive processes underlining fatherhood. The author is painfully conscious that when it comes to his children, he is powerless to control the outcomes of their futures or the future of the scary world in which they live. This story of love and family survival is a must read recipe for coping with unpredictable trials, and a reminder to enjoy life’s gifts. The book will inspire many parents and expecting couples, especially those with boys. It’s a heartfelt laugh to pass and share with friends.
Post Photo Courtesy of: http://entropymag.org/
Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father’s House, You Can Make Him Like You, Lost in Space, the forthcoming Four Fathers, which he co-authored with Dave Housley, BL Pawelek, and Tom Williams, and Orphans, which recently won the 24th Annual Midwest Book Award in Fantasy/SciFi/Horror/Paranorma