You Can Make Him Like You by Ben Tanzer: A Review

27 May

When I first opened Ben Tanzer’s new book and read some (well-written, of course) sentences about a selfish jerk sleeping with an intern, I was tempted to close it back up again. Because as a thirty-something year-old myself, I’ve got enough thirty-something year-old friends behaving like hormone-crazy teenagers that I didn’t want to read another book celebrating that. I thought, this is a book for those people–mostly men. I thought, this is not a book for me.

But then I read on, and was really, incredibly glad I did. Because my initial impression was very wrong. This is not a book about glorifying the man-child. This is a book about giving the man-child a swift kick in the ass, forcing the man-child to grow up and be honest with himself and the people he loves.  Keith, the main character, has fantasies and random thoughts and fears and hopes just like all of us. As a guy slightly past his prime but feeling pretty lucky that he’s married to a woman he loves, he still sometimes wants something else–and we like him because he’s humble enough to admit that. He admits that he’s not a movie star, that his life isn’t script-worthy, that he’s just stumbling through trying to find his way in the world and find meaning in his work–and sometimes doing a piss-poor job at all of it.

What makes the book work so well is the way that Tanzer writes his characters, particularly Keith, with incredibly depth and honesty. Like all of us, they are diffuse and distracted and shaped not only by important events (babies, elections) but also by pop culture, by music and movies and sports trivia and TMZ. Tanzer is willing to acknowledge that sometimes, even during the most difficult moments of our lives, we may be thinking about the most trivial things imaginable–and that it doesn’t mean WE are trivial. It merely reflects our culture, our methods of coping, our way of floating out of the world even while fully immersed in it.

Tanzer’s skill in writing Keith made me really like this character. I felt for this poor everyman, trying so hard and failing himself in so many ways. So much of Keith’s personality is revealed in scattered, almost stream-of-conscious monologues that not only made me think about him, they made me think about the way TV, music, news, and pop culture has affected us all and the way that we reason, talk to ourselves and our loved ones, every single day. In modern society, it gets harder and harder, I think, to be a “grown-up”–especially when we realize there really isn’t any such thing. There are only people like us, people trying to do the right thing in their small orbits of lovers and friends and co-workers and responsibilities and personal demons. Perhaps the most poignant moment in the book for me is the moment when Keith sees his father, taking expert, loving care of his (Keith’s) new son, and thinks, “Who is is this fucking guy?” It’s the realization we all have, at some point, when we have finally separated our adult selves enough from our child selves to briefly, momentarily glimpse our parents as just people, too. And to realize that they were just like we are now: doing it all for the first time and stumbling like mad until they found the proper footing.

You Can Make Him Like You, by Ben Tanzer, is available for purchase at Artistically Declined Press.

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