Book Review: “Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again” by Ben Tanzer

One thing my department in college loved was indie presses, another thing was creative non-fiction, especially essays about everyday life. It’s not something I ever really got. I like Indie presses and I don’t mind reading the occasional essay, but I can only think that the reason I have this book must be because I saw it on a table at a school festival or event and felt pressured to buy it. Not pressured like some classmate or teacher was telling me I had to, or that the author was telling me I had to buy their book but in this implied conversation about how part of our job was to read from all the indie presses in the city because our school seemed assured that we would soon be published by them, or that they were our best shots. And step 1 to getting published by an indie press is to read what they’ve published and see if there’s a work of yours that might find a home there.

And yet I want to go back in time and ask myself, “So why did you grab the book that is 100% not targeted to you?”

Maybe it’s because the art on the cover looks like a comic or the main title is “lost in space” so I thought it was sci-fi and it’s a thin novel. Maybe it was dark, and I just panicked and grabbed one and bought it thinking it was a graphic novel and not really reading the title or looking too closely.

But it makes me think of before I went to college and was walking around a college fair trying to collect all the pamphlets and brochures I could but being incredibly nervous about talking to any of the staff there to answer questions. And my dad pushed me forward motioning to a nearby table and said “Just ask, talk to them.” And I did. He just happened to pick, out of all the college tables in the auditorium to push me towards was the one that was an all boy’s university.

This feels a bit like that. Not nearly as embarassing but in a way where I don’t really connect with it because it’s not for me. I mean sure I read it, but I’m not a father. I’m a single women in her 20’s and this collection of essays that needed another comb through edit wise just isn’t meant for me. Though I did sit there reading, distracted by the thought that maybe my friend who just had a kid, maybe I should send this book to him. Which is a familiar thought I’ve had recently with my books.

So I want you to keep that in mind as I go. This collection of essays is non-fiction which is another thing, as I mentioned in the Bradbury interview collection just isn’t my thing. There’s just some things when I look at non-fiction, especially a collection like this where I wonder “Why would you share that?” Because people know it’s non-fiction, so you’re kids are going to know you wrote about a skin tag they had in a private spot as a baby for possibly the whole world to read, and that you spent most of your time around other women thinking about affairs or the possiblity of affairs or that every time you visited one of your kids doctors you were pleased that she wore a low v-cut sweater so you could check her out. And that’s just more than I wanted to know and feels awkward because this is real life, a real life where the wife he talks about probably has read these or will read these or his family will read these and I’m just like, this is what you want us to know? That you were checking out the girl you saw while traveling abroad until you realized maybe one day if you and your wife had a daughter there’s a chance she’d look like this girl and that, that stopped you?

It’s just something I find uncomfortable, for me. And it was a reoccurring theme, one that popped up even towards an essay at the end where his wife mentioned to him that for life insurance he should leave her more money because he’d probably remarry and she doubted she would. His go-to expected future wife in this daydream is Selena Gomez (only because she’d broken up with Justin Beiber and apparently thus is fair game. But of course not while they were dating), who was born while he was in college. And that’s just one of those things, there’s this leering within the book that is I think supposed to be played off as “lol, red-blooded man, right?” that is uncomfortable for me.

It’s also full of pop cultural references that I don’t get and that has become outdated. I get some of them, like Star Wars, but there were also a lot of people and things I had to look up to just see if maybe I was even possibly familiar with them or recognized the actor he was talking about and I didn’t. Again, not the target audience and I’m also younger and in a different frame of pop-cultural references than the ones he uses.

So back to the essays, right? Right. They are in general about fatherhood. They’re also a lot about his kids. He has two boys who struggle with sleep like he and his father does/did. It’s about fear, his fear of all terrible things that could happen to his kids, heightened by different trips to the hospital with his kids while growing up. It’s about the frantic hectic life of being a parent mixed with the beauty of it. It’s about his mourning the loss of his own father who, if I understood correctly, didn’t live to meet his kids which seems to eat him up inside and makes death a tormenter as much as a failure to get a good night’s sleep. It’s about hope for his kid’s futures and the concern for them.

And those things are why I want to send this to my friend whose a new father. I want him to read it and tell me what he thinks, if it’s gotten dated because of the pop-cultural references, or maybe I just don’t get the references, or if he feels like the novel gets him.

A part I do like is the slices of Chicago. The indie publishing company that put it out is Chicago-based, and the author is a high person within the company (past me, is that why you bought it????) so Chicago comes through well. And there’s an essay about the city when it was just him and his wife and their life in the Gold Coast together and then how it changed, so quickly by the time his kids were growing up. The ghosts of the places he used to frequent and the people he knew, the changes in his view (literal) as the city moved and changed and grew around him and his family. And there are little funny stories throughout of his kids being kids.

The thing though that hit me with CHICAGO!!!! Was the comments on the literary community and how interwoven it is. The readings the author attended inspired him. The one that really got him into writing is the one that smacked me in the face with how small the community is. Because that author was one of my teacher’s in Prague. Small world to the nth degree though when I got to like the second essay that was a slow build panic-induced is my child going to die? hospital trip where I was so stressed I needed to know if the kid survived before continuing and went hunting only to realize how many mutual people we know. Anything more than 10 makes writing a review embarrassing for some reason. Because I think now I know way too much about a person that is friends with my friends on social media. But again, that’s that Chicago literary scene for you. And I can also see when I was in college this collection of essays would’ve been well-loved at my school. It’s just not for me, but then again I’m not going through the adventure of fatherhood.

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