If someone were to hand me a book, saying ‘Hey, this is a novel with pop-culture references, sexual ventures, and a straight-forward narrative mostly concerned with young parenthood and rendered via dialogue,’ I wouldn’t snatch it up and start reading. I might actually walk in the other direction. In fact, I would do just that – run from what I don’t typically read. But instead, what happens is that Ryan Bradley at Artistically Declined Press says ‘Hey, do you want to read an ARC of Ben Tanzer’s new book?’ And because I enjoy Tanzer’s writing, and I’ve read his previous two books, and I trust ADP, I agree; I crack it open, and I become an engulfed reader:
“Yeah, we were living in Brooklyn at the time, and I was home, and Tara actually called me from work after the first plane hit. I went to the windows and as I looked out I watched the second plane come right up the river and turn towards the tower. I just had no idea what was going on and even with all the madness that transpired, and the whole world on fire, all I could think about was whether Tara would be all right, and whether she could get home. It was a totally insular and selfish reaction in the midst of this terrible fucking thing, but I guess it was all I could handle. I’m still embarrassed about it.”
Tanzer’s writing is, in all honesty, counter to me as a writer and an editor. Tanzer’s novels are not the kind we publish with Mud Luscious Press, or even in our new Nephew imprint series. And Tanzer’s writing is not akin to what I write, the works I publish as an author. So while Tanzer and I have had coffee and the conversation was fantastic and easy and super entertaining, we are not like-writers. And yet, I start reading You Can Make Him Like You, and I am 150 pgs in without blinking. Why?
And we are still not talking. It’s sort of like a showdown, though it’s more like a shut-down, because no one is trying to win anything here, we just don’t know where to start.
“So, what’s the story?” I finally ask.
Liz starts to cry. First, her beautiful face briefly collapses, and then as her awesome cheekbones begin to sag, her amazing little freckles blur together into some kind of facial white noise. I am reminded what an amazing crier she is, transparent and lovely, never holding anything back.
The short answer is because Tanzer, in a manner most mysterious to me, somehow harnesses the power of straight, conventional writing without the usual level of pandering or expositional obtuseness. The words say exactly what they mean, no more and no less, and thus his books drive us forward - we become propelled. The long answer is what I can’t articulate, because sometimes books just run as rivers, end in a place we aren’t looking for but simply arrive at. Story-tellers do this, around campfires, at dinner tables, in the car on long-drives. Tanzer does this in his books, and Artistically Declined Press was smart enough to pick up those words in You Can Make Him Like You.
There is the sound of contact, skin on skin, his maybe, maybe hers, someone is out of breath, more blows, and there is crying, her for sure, him possibly.
The voices become muffled, I strain to hear what’s going on, completely sucked into the domestic drama playing out somewhere in the building.
by Paula McCauley Shelton