Ben Tanzer is everywhere.
And now he is here for the most recent in what has clearly become an occasional series of interviews. That’s right, this Chicago man-about-town and publishing champion submitted to the grueling e-mail mindslog known to you as The Big Other interview.
Davis: Answer a banal question you might imagine a novice interviewer might ask?
Ben: I am wearing pants. Drinking coffee. Listening to The Avett Brothers. And wearing pants. It’s not even like I think of that as a requirement of this interview or any interview. Especially as I sit here at my kitchen table with the heat pouring over me like a wave of steamy goodness. But for the record. Pants on. Completely.
Davis: You seem to publish a book every three months or so, and not one of these is a Green Lantern, if you catch my meaning…
Ben: 2011 was a really good year for me in terms of writing. Having had a series of things come out over the course of the year, I felt self-conscious about it, though I’m proud of all the work. I’m thrilled that there’s interest from publishers and readers, but there’s some discomfort, too. Some of it is about how the release of the work is staggered. You write and write and you don’t know when things will actually pop. I suppose it’s like Ryan Gosling having three movies out this year. And no, I’m not really comparing myself to Ryan Gosling. For example, he’s Canadian, so right there you have that..
I’m beginning to think Ben Tanzer is writing a fictional biography of himself through his novels. If you read them chronologically: Lucky Man, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I Go Mine, You Can Make Him Like You (which I had the good fortune to publish), and most recently the novella, My Father’s House, you will find a loose timeline of one man’s life (ignoring, of course, that along the way the characters names change, and some of the dates don’t arrive chronologically). And this isn’t necessarily important in reading Tanzer’s work, it’s just one of the many things that came to mind while reading My Father’s House, and realizing that more than just about any other writer I’ve ever read that Tanzer has a way of being so intimate with his fiction that you feel like you know the people, that you are talking with them face to face, that their pain is your pain.
I consider myself lucky to have had a small role in the glorious publication history Tanzer continues to compile. More than that I consider myself lucky to be able to call him a friend. To say that My Father’s House effected me emotionally would be an injustice. My Father’s House wounded me as if I were the main character who is losing his father. It spoke to me as if it were my own inner dialogue of dealing with my issues regarding my inherent, perhaps bred, need to be tough. Not for other people but for myself. That to let down those guards I have built up could create a spiraling to an unquantifiable extent.
And sure, there are differences from Tanzer’s other work. My Father’s House is even more personal, more intimate. Tanzer uses more dialogue to express the inner monologues of his protagonist, and while there were moments where the unforgiving editor in me thought the dialogue might be too much monologuing in the moment for a character I was never unaffected by what the character was saying. Which maybe makes me more compartmentalizing than Tanzer’s anti-hero. And how do I feel about that?
The bottom line is this: Tanzer is going somewhere with his novels. And I don’t mean that in a “gee, that kid is really going somewhere” way, though that is likely very true as well. But Tanzer is taking a journey in his novels. Whether consciously or not. With My Father’s House he has reached the point in this fictional biography where he decides that he must follow his ache to be a writer. Four novels in, one can only wonder what kind of masterpiece that means Tanzer has waiting in the wings of his pen.
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The Mimic’s Own Voice by Tom Williams
Main Street Rag, 97 pages, $9.95
This is a difficult book to write about because it’s so commandingly impressive. The writing is tight, expository, and emerges more from the school of “tell” than the school of “show.” I’m reminded most of Steven Milhauser’s story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” and novel Edwin Mullhouse. There is a narrator, but we are never sure who, or why, s/he is recounting the life and death of Williams’s protagonist, Douglas Myles, a mimic so good at replicating others’ voices he can even replicate voices he hasn’t heard — just by looking at the person. But how? How exactly does he do it? Questions like these seem the occasion for the academically toned narrative, which includes passages like:
Myles’s manuscript, housed now at The Pratt-Falls Center, Dr. Greene’s home institution, excited laymen and scholars at first, for all suspected it had been written for publication. Yet no contract exists among Myles’s papers (and, as the readers shall see, he was quite the saver), nor can one be found in the files of any publishers. This increased speculation that a bidding war for its rights would take place, though after the manuscript’s seventy-three handwritten pages were initially read, no offers, save for the Pratt-Falls’s were forthcoming. From its curious usage of second person, to its enigmatic opening and closing lines, ‘Your name is Douglas Myles. . . . They never really listened,” it does not divulge entirely his secrets, while it raises mysteries all its own. Still, there are a host of details which offer, for the first time, a definitive glimpse into his early life.