-Review by Diana Mumford–
The role of present-day fathers is changing rapidly. Many men see their position as the bread-winner and figurehead evolving to include additional hands-on parenting responsibilities. In Cobalt Press’ Four Fathers, authors Dave Housley, BL Pawelek, Ben Tanzer, and Tom Williams explore the trials and joys of family life, relating the experiences of sons who have become parents in a rich collection of short fiction and poetry.
The introductory piece by Tom Williams, Where You Should Be, thrusts the reader into mental turmoil. The protagonist, James Robinson, literally sees his father, with whom he is at odds, in the faces of strangers. His father appears outside of his office, outside of the bar, and in his neighborhood with his “medium-length Afro, steel-rimmed glasses and wide, shining brown face.” These “hallucinations,” as he calls them, disrupt his work life and social interactions, leading him to turn to alcohol for comfort.
Even in the throes of vice, James can’t bring himself to call his father. He wants to reconnect, but he believes his family is disappointed with his life choices. After all, James hasn’t yet settled down. He lives his life based on whims. His decisions are in contrast to his stalwart father’s, a man who made his living playing by the rules and paying lip service to his white managerial superiors.
James’ issues with his father lie at the core of this piece, but Williams’ discussion of racial dynamics elaborate on the textbook Oedipus complex. James struggles to connect with a man he has nothing in common with—not even his appearance. Descriptions of James’ wanderings in the world as a mixed race man and the heart-breaking advice from his black father, who tells him to wear cologne because, “They think we smell bad,” create powerful images that question his inheritance. Williams’ prose is simple and elegant. The second-person narrative is an interesting choice that forces the reader to be present in James’ experiences. Readers will sense his powerful yearning for connection with his father amidst an angst-ridden consciousness.
Following this tale of self-discovery is Ben Tanzer’s flash fiction collection, Puzzles. Tanzer’s experimental style and his stream of consciousness writing offer an engaging and refreshing break from the norm. He depicts the frightening moment when his son is born in the hospital and he has no control over the situation. In contrast to that pulse-pounding scene, Tanzer also shares how the mere act of successfully managing to put socks on a toddler is no small triumph.
BL Pawelek’s poetry collection, The Princess, follows next. His work is comprised of two parts: Snow White and Aurora. The poet deftly juxtaposes whimsical fairy tale imagery with real-life descriptions of childhood, evoking his “princess” daughter’s experiences-her skinned knees along with her imaginary friends-all in delicate stanzas. At times these tales are esoteric, yet still familiar. In fables, there’s always an element of danger. Where there is a princess, there is a need for protection and Pawelek’s narrator father takes on this role willingly and lovingly.
David Housley’s novella, Everything Is Getting Worse is a hilarious and sometimes tragic account of a father, named Burns, who attempts to teach his son about “good music.” His son, Tyler, age nine, absolutely refuses to listen to anything besides Justin Bieber. Even though Burns’ heart is in the right place, his judgment of his son leads him to practice some very poor parenting skills. His misguided efforts include attempting to bring Tyler to a dive bar to listen to one of his favorite bands. Everything is Getting Worse disproves the old “father knows best” adage and readers will smile when Burns learns something unexpected about the magic of modern music from his son.
Tom Williams has the last say. His story, What It Means to Be, confronts the idea that you’re still a child in your father’s house—that we’re all still children in some ways. Again James is pictured at odds with his father. In contrast to the James in the first story, however, this second, future vision of James has a wife, Amy, and a kid, playfully called “The Buddy.” James is aware that he spends too much time buried in his own thoughts, but when he visits his father, he learns to be present for his wife and son.
Cobalt Press’ first book is beautifully designed, weaving an intricate collaboration between talented authors. Four Fathers is filled with hilarious and poignant moments. Told in episodic soul-searching movements, many unique voices emerge inaugurating experimentation in diverse literary forms. The stories contemplate genetic bonds, adult disguises, and parental identity crisis. Bookended by tales of sons becoming men, the collection invites readers to consider their own family dynamic, especially with regard to father-son relationships. It is a medley that will resonate.
Copies available at http://cobaltpress.org/store.html
Post Photo Courtesy of: http://bentanzer.blogspot.com