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Reviews Wed Nov 12 2008
Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine
by Ben Tanzer
(Orange Alert Press, 2008)
Another novel about sex. Another novel about failed relationships. Another novel whose characters are too self-aware, too consumed with pop culture, and too involved with themselves to ever be involved with someone else. You might say this about Ben Tanzer's Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine, but you'd be committing an unfair reduction and missing what is actually a funny and interesting story. Set in New York, You Go Your Way revolves around two groups of friends. Geoff and Paul meet Jen and Rhonda at a party and it's not long between the two pair off, with Paul and Rhonda heading off to her apartment where Paul will eventually leave Rhonda lying on her own bathroom floor, and Geoff and Jen staying to discuss their parents and their mutual aversions to marriage. Neither seems like a great start to a great relationship, but this isn't a story about great relationships. It's a story about real ones.
Written as a series of vignettes with exposition sparse between long bouts of dialogue, You Go Your Way reads almost as a play. The scenes are short and self-contained and any one of them could be read on their own as a very short story, similar to hearing a snippet of conversation from two people passing by. The effect is that we are propelled through the story, moving very quickly from Geoff and Jen's meeting to their eventual courtship and the problems they face therein. Much more affecting than any external factors they come up against are their own internal hesitations. After sleeping together for the first time, we are privy to their thoughts: "He will be a...jerk...manipulator, user, control freak that doesn't care about her or anyone else. And Jen will be right, he will be all of this, or none of this, Geoff thinks, but he will let her down. He will be himself, that will suck and she will not want to be with him anymore." This is not a romanticized relationship, but one between two very flawed people who, while aware of their flaws, flounder when it comes to learning how to get past them.
The novel is rife with pop culture references. Paul often answers Geoff's musings about his relationship in the manner of Yoda and with Rhonda and Jen the quartet can easily go from The Breakfast Club to Milton Berle to J. Edgar Hoover back to Jon Cryer. Though these references may seem a bit recycled at times - the discussion on when a guy should call a girl after the first date is easily recognizable as influenced by Swingers - the truth is that this is the way that many of us actually speak. The appeal of the story is not that it's so different from what most of us have experienced, but that it's so familiar. Geoff will pull away and Jen will let him go way too easily; it's no one's fault and it's the fault of them both: "Jen agrees that there is something sad about the end of the relationship. Still, while there has been something good between them, and while they might have fought harder for it, it is done, and while this may contradict how she felt on the way to meet Geoff, when something is done you have to move on. Right?" Whether these two move on and how well they do so is left up to the reader to judge, but it is a judgment no reader can make without first finding something of him- or herself in these so very real characters.