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Reviews Fri Jun 19 2015

Father's Day Review: Lost in Space by Ben Tanzer

It's Father's Day! To celebrate, we bring you the second installment of our two-part spotlight on Chicago fathers writing about parenthood featuring Ben Tanzer's book Lost In Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again (Curbside Splendor). Tanzer has been giving birth to new books almost annually, with his newest work, New York Stories, being released this month by The Chicago Center for Literature & Photography. Come out for the release reading today, June 19, at City Lit Books 2523 N. Kedzie at 6:30pm (so all you dads can get back home to tuck in their kids).

LostInSpace_cover.jpgLost in Space is a collection of creative nonfiction essays in which Tanzer chronicles his childhood via his own experience raising a family. The chapters are not arranged chronologically, but Tanzer interjects pop culture references that act as sign posts, marking days by the release of Star Wars or the Lion King. The opening lines of the first essay namedrop Patrick Ewing and Caddyshack.

Throughout the book we get a sense of Tanzer as a father who is writing while juggling parenthood, marriage, a job, and his social life. He directly speaks to the reader, sharing his most intimate feelings and letting us in on the minutiae of his day-to-day life. We know he is a runner, a worrier, a loving father, and a dedicated writer. He leaves nothing out, sharing even his personal fears and insecurities, about parenting and writing both. We see this done in the essay Anatomy of a Story, in which Tanzer wrestles with how to write about a surgical procedure undergone by his son. The original intent was to fictionalize the diagnosis into something more visceral for the reader. Yet, ultimately he tells it true to life, demonstrating his authority and authenticity as a writer and a parent.

In the essay I Am You Father, Tanzer makes known his parental need to share his favorite movies with his sons. Everyone knows that what their parents are into is not cool; but his son, a fan of "Glee" and Lady Gaga, relents to watching The Empire Strikes Back. The essay provides a picture both of Tanzer at his son's age and now as a father, waiting for his son to react to the movie in the ways that he had. "When do Luke and Princess Leia realize that even though they've been kissing they're actually brother and sister?" his son asks, and Tanzer understands that his son has absorbed the movie very differently. The realization is sobering. We get that as a parent, Tanzer is glad his son is thinking critically and is observant, even if not a full-blown Star Wars fanatic.

There a few interludes that break up the essays, The Mel Gibson Interlude, The Vanilla Ice Interlude, etc. They give a glimpse into Tanzer's parenting mindset. In The Darth Vader Interlude, Tanzer lists "rock star" and "suck-ass" fathers. These provide a gauge as to his initial approach to becoming a parent, and how these plans were eventually overtaken by the reality of actually being a parent.

Tanzer shares so much of himself in these essays, the collection could potentially be classified instead as a parenting manual. In Race Matters, Tanzer, being an avid runner, deals with his son who isn't interested in running. He struggles with the idea of supporting his son's decisions without seeming too heavy handed for "even positivity can feel like a pressure." Each essay drops small amounts of parenting advice like this, weaving them into the narrative without compromising the flow.

For parents, these essays will serve as significant and definitely relatable; and it's a very emotional and personal collection regardless whether you are a parent or not.

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