Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon February 1, 2012 - 8:26am

'My Father's House' by Ben Tanzer

Synopsis: Inspired by The Basketball Diaries, My Father’s House is an homage to the sparse lyricism of Bruce Springsteen and the slamming, punchy storytelling of The Ramones. Both raw and humorous, it is a tale of illness and coping, fathers and sons, and the birth of the writer. It explores compulsions and confusion, and how it is we deal with grief, ghosts and our inability to communicate what we feel and think and need despite our every desire to do so. With nods to JFK Jr., Ray Bradbury, Magnolia and all things in between, My Father’s House is a journey that begins by asking whether we can ever know death, and along the way shows us that if even if we cannot, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t face it, embrace it, run with it and ultimately let it wash over us like a song.

About the Author: Ben Tanzer is the author of the books Lucky Man, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine, Repetition Patterns, 99 Problems and the forthcoming novel You Can Make Him Like You. He also oversees day-to-day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and blogs at This Blog Will Change Your Life the centerpiece of his vast, albeit faux media empire. He is currently watching Sports Center, but upon his deathbed, he will receive total consciousness, so, he has that going for him, which is nice.

I've been wanting to get Ben a discussion here ever since I read You Can Make Him Like You.  His writing is funny and honest.  He's not afraid to put those things on the page that we're all too embarrassed to admit that we wonder. 

He'll be hanging out and discussing the book with us - so be nice to him!  He's a great guy.

Discussion will start March 1st.

Order the book here: http://www.mainstreetrag.com/BTanzer.html

Read a review of the book by Nik Korpon here: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/nkorpon/2011/10/review-of-my-fathers-house-by-ben-tanzer/

Review by Caleb J. Ross: http://www.outsiderwriters.org/2011/ben-tanzer%E2%80%99s-my-fathers-house

So yeah, get to reading!

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon February 1, 2012 - 8:48am

Some cool stuff to check out while you're waiting for the book to come.

Ben's blog:

http://bentanzer.blogspot.com/

And here's a set of interviews his son did with him about the book:

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. February 1, 2012 - 9:00pm

Haven't read any Tanzer. I am still a bit bummed about missing the Cult thread a few months back (still haven't read that book either) as I find these threads a great way to put me on to new authors.

So I shall be buying this. One thing though, how come it isn't for sale on Amazon? Shipping from the publisher to the UK is the same price as the book itself. If that is the only way to get a hold of it then so be it, I shall have to order it this week so that it gets here in time.

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer February 2, 2012 - 11:50pm

It's true, I will most definitely be hanging out and discussing the book. And I really appreciate the opportunity to do so. My Father's House is not available through Amazon though. The publisher, Main Street Rag, has chosen not to work with them and while I appreciate the sentiment, I'm sorry for the inconvenience.  

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. February 3, 2012 - 1:20am

Hi Ben.

No worries. Barely a month goes by that I don't bemoan the price/speed of international shipping. Nothing new.

I ordered it from your publisher today so it should get here at some point in the next three weeks. All good.

You got any short stories online or anything? Any stuff I can check out in the meantime for a bit of a taster?

 

Jay.SJ's picture
Jay.SJ from London is reading Warmed and Bound February 3, 2012 - 4:12am

Hi Ben, thanks for joining. Any plans on a kindle version? My bank account has seemed to run away chasing beer.

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer February 3, 2012 - 1:50pm

Wickedvoodoo, big thanks for the order and I am really looking forward to your thoughts and the upcoming discussion. In terms of short stories, there are various places you can find them, but what may be easiest is visiting CCLaP Publishing who I have done two semi-connected collections with, Repetition Patterns (http://www.cclapcenter.com/patterns/) and So Different Now (http://www.cclapcenter.com/different/) respectively, both of which are available as ebooks and in a Radiohead-style pay you want, including nothing at all, format.

In terms of Kindle, sorry Jay, that is not looking real good at the moment, though if it helps brother, I can well appreciate the need to prioritize chasing beer over one of my books.

  

Tish77's picture
Tish77 from Central Qld, Australia is reading something different everytime I log in... Currently The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank February 7, 2012 - 6:27am

Seems like this is going to be difficult to get in Australia... I can pay but suspect it won't get here in time.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. February 16, 2012 - 11:16am

Got my copy delivered today. I shall put it next in my reading queue.

I am surprised that it is labelled a novella. At 171 pages it seems long enough to merit the novel tag?

Anyway, I shall be reading it soon.

NikKorpon's picture
NikKorpon from Baltimore is reading Book and books and books and February 16, 2012 - 11:45am

The novella tag is weird. It does carry the weight of a novel proper, though. And I have to say, it's the only book that's ever made me cry.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon February 16, 2012 - 12:20pm

Oh no, we have that to look forward to?  ha

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz February 22, 2012 - 12:46am

Nik cried? 

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer February 22, 2012 - 4:20pm

There may be tears. And for that I apologize in advance. Also, I never thought about My Father's House as a novella when I was writing it. It seemed done to me and when Main Street Rag a publisher I wanted to work further with put out a call for novellas, I was thrilled, and frankly surprised, to see that My Father's House came in just under the word limit. Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, and no pressure on that front, really, I was recently asked to write an essay for Necessary Fiction's Research Notes series and decided to write a piece on the "research" I did for My Father's House. I look forward to your thoughts, though again, no pressure on that front. Really.      

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. February 24, 2012 - 1:52am

80 pages in - this is nicely written but very downbeat. Having just read Phil's Praise of Motherhood this month too, feels like I have a death-in-the-family theme going on. Depressing stuff haha.

A good read so far though. Is there an element of 'creative non-fiction' here? It comes across like there might be. Very personal and intimate. I look forward to reading more.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. February 24, 2012 - 1:53am

Also, I shall give that research article a read once I am done with the book.

Chris Davis's picture
Chris Davis from Indiana is reading A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews February 24, 2012 - 12:21pm

Just placed my order. Looking forward to taking part in the conversation on my first book club selection.

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer February 25, 2012 - 10:00pm

Hey Chris, welcome, and thanks for the order. And Wicked Voodoo, I'm thrilled you're digging it so far, and yes there is an element of "creative nonfiction." The story arc that traces the father's illness mirrors that of my father's, but then everything around it is an effort to blow-up anything that looks like my life and tell an alternative version of that story focused on how we cope, and don't; try to communicate pain; deal with confusion and inevitably slam into the idea that everything we think we know about ourselves is possibly wrong, or at least warped, when we are faced with a potential loss and find ourselves revisiting every moment, every decision and every memory prior to this one.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 1, 2012 - 6:54am

Discussion officially begins today. 

I'm about halfway through this book.  Such short chapters, I keep telling myself "ok one more" and before I know it, I should have been asleep an hour ago.  Thank you Ben for robbing me of my precious sleep!

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer March 1, 2012 - 8:30am

I suppose I could aplogize, but I am so consciously hoping that will happen. As a writer I like the idea that short chapters can capture the intimacy, violence and rapid fire moments that make up much the day. And as a reader I love short chapters for the very reason you describe, I just want to read one more, I have to, and when the chapter is short it's like a gift. So, if it helps, please think of it as my gift to you.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. March 2, 2012 - 6:11am

I'm not going to be online much for the next week so I shall throw a few thoughts down now.

Agreed on the short chapters. It works really well, for this book and more often that not, just generally for fiction in my opinion. Most of the time anyway. In this instance it made it feel less like a conventional story and more like a journal.

The narrative here is so intimate. It's what made me suspect there was a creative non-fiction element going on. The empathy that would have to be involved otherwise, man that would be insane. So I extend sympathy to you Ben if some of the more painful elements are the non-fictional ones.

If I had to guess I'd say the majority of the father-related stuff, the Kerri scenes, and the narrators general worldly observations are the parts of the story that are 'true', while the Lawn-girl stuff and his job read more like fictional elements. Just hunches there really though.

There's lots of interesting stuff going on with the coping strategies we see the guy using, where he places his various portions of blame. His 'locus-of-control'. I will have to have a ponder on this before I write more.

Yeah, good book. Rather downbeat, but very convincing and genuine feeling. I enjoyed it. I shall return to this thread when I get back.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 2, 2012 - 2:31pm

ben's good people. read with him at something, was it Quickies! maybe? he just tore up the crowd at AWP with a hilarious story. i'll try to peek in here, see if i can't dig into this title during march too. my MFA is killing me.

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break March 3, 2012 - 10:03am

No, it was the Two With Water reading at Beauty Bar, dude.  I was there, remember?

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 4, 2012 - 11:56am

That was the second time i met Ben, but yeah, the first time reading with him, thanks, Brandon. I remember Beauty Bar. I'd met Ben at a Quickies! reading a year or two before that.

Mike Mckay's picture
Mike Mckay is reading God's Ashtray March 8, 2012 - 5:44pm

Just ordered my copy, anyone know the shipping span? Gotta lot work with classes and work next weeks just making time for reading.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 8, 2012 - 7:00pm

I've been swamped with homework.  But this week is break.  So, I've been trying to fit more reading it.  I'm hoping to finish this sometime this weekend. 

It's brutally honest.  So honest it hurts and sometimes I can't read it for a long length of time. 

But then those damn short chapters!  It's not a gift Ben, it's not a gift!  haha

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer March 8, 2012 - 11:38pm

Not a gift. Got it. Sorry for that Pete. And I'm not sure I saw it as brutal, though I get that, and even as I write this, it sounds ridiculous to me to say it. So, definitely, maybe, a blind spot of sorts for me here. I intentially wanted to flip my usual formula with this book. With previous books I have looked to wrap humor around pain, and this time I consciously tried to go for pain wrapped around humor. Does the humor come through for you or is it lost in the morass of brutality and suffering?

To WickedVoodoo's point, I am always looking for the intimate, definitely, which is how I see relationships, bad or good, and everything I suppose, tight, violent, a lack of space and suffering, but joy too, humor, love and such. An influence here is the movie A History of Violence, or maybe more specifically how David Cronenberg spoke about it where he said something like all violence is intimate, and he wanted to capture that on screen, and that's something which resonated with me and still does and something I am endlessly trying to capture on paper.

It also definitely does have a journal entry vibe, and again, consciously so, trying reflect the passage of time, how we can compartmentalize things when we encounter death, the sense that with experiences like this there is a progression of sorts, starts and stops for sure, but moving forward to, always, and inevitably towards some kind of conclusion.

Welcome Mike, I hope the book gets there soon, I look forward to your thoughts.

And Richard and Brandon, dudes, you're both right, as you always are, and beautiful, and it's very nice to see you here, even if only virtually.   

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 9, 2012 - 6:49am

Maybe I think brutal because I can't help but relive when my grandfather was dying.  It was a similar thing.  He lived for over a year after getting sick.  But we all knew it was only a matter of time.  And all the treatments and money being spent was only giving us a few more weeks each time.  But at the time, any amount of money could be justified.  That one extra day would mean so much.

The humor comes through in little ways.  It's very subtle.  But it comes through as the honesty.  Like the little things he worries about maybe.  In the grand scheme they don't matter.  But they make nice distractions. 

I'll think more on this and try to come up with some stuff this weekend.

I think, given the subject matter, the journal entry vibe really works nicely.  More like snippets, snap-shots, of leading up to the inevitable.

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer March 14, 2012 - 9:54pm

Interestingly, maybe, I have had a number of male readers and male friends tell me that they did not plan to read the book because of a death, some recent, some not, that they did want to have to revisit because of the book. On the other hand, female readers and female friends have had the opposite reaction, and have torn into it knowing some recent death was hovering over their shoulder as they read it, but found that for them it provided some kind of salve.   

And yes, no matter how bad things are going, and no matter how bad you feel, you will ultimately always want one more day.

In terms of the journal entry vibe, I should also say, that some of the content from the book is torn right from the journal I kept while my father was sick, I had initially imagined doing something more like a memoir, but it just didn't work for me, and I always wanted the book in whatever form it was in to be a homage to The Basketball Diaries, so at a minimum, and along with everything we've discussed so far, I wanted the journal entry vibe, because I somehow wanted to evoke how that book read to me, intimate, cringe-inducing, vivid and kind of transformative.

 

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 15, 2012 - 5:45am

I should be, hopefully, finishing this today.  I've been swamped with school work.  I don't know why proffesors think it's ok to assign 3 chapters to read in only a couple days and the chapters are 30 pages and I have other classes... Ok, enough griping.  ha

Interestingly, maybe, I have had a number of male readers and male friends tell me that they did not plan to read the book because of a death, some recent, some not, that they did want to have to revisit because of the book. On the other hand, female readers and female friends have had the opposite reaction, and have torn into it knowing some recent death was hovering over their shoulder as they read it, but found that for them it provided some kind of salve.  

That's an interesting fact.  I wouldn't avoid it.  I don't mind the book dragging up memories.  I guess it makes it easier for me to feel what the characters are feeling.  It makes it easier to get sucked into the story. 

And yes, no matter how bad things are going, and no matter how bad you feel, you will ultimately always want one more day.

I just read the chapter last night, where the brothers are talking on the phone and he says, "It would be easier if it was over already."  (Or something along those lines - I don't have my book with me.)  Right there sums up how you feel.  You don't want it to be over.  It's the last thing you want.  Though, you kinda do wish it would just end already and make life easier.  Less wondering.  Less panic at every late night call.  But then, you're still praying for one more day.  It's a crazy Catch-22.  And I was wondering when you were going to bring it into the story.

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer March 15, 2012 - 8:34pm

I so almost added to my last comment that what we were discussing was coming, that I do cover it in the book, that it has to be covered, and that yes, even when thinking about it all coming to an end is the worst thing you can imagine it doesn't mean there aren't moments where that doesn't seem easier, not preferred, just easier. And please don't hesitate to gripe, you can't imagine how happy I am to not be in school, much less have homework. 

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 16, 2012 - 10:55am

This part on page 165 when Kerri goes to turn the TV off.  It was almost a nice relief.  You expect the book to get darker and more depressing, and then there's this chapter to lighten it up.  It actually made me smile.  Not that it's comedy, but it's, I don't know, making the best of the situation?  Mostly that very last line.

"What are you doing," I say between tears.
"I can't bear to watch you cry so hard," she says.
"I haven't cried this hard since before my dad died, " I say, "and it feels good to be crying this hard again."
"Really?" she says.
"Really," I respond, "and I need to watch the rest of this for that reason alone."

Yeah, I guess I shouldn't complain too much about school.  I shouldn't expect the professors to cater towards people with more than full time jobs, in their 30's, trying to finally finish a degree when most of the students are part time workers (if that) right out of high school.  Like they say, consider your audience.

Ben Tanzer's picture
Ben Tanzer March 28, 2012 - 5:15pm

Pete, dude, so sorry for leaving you hanging here, most irresponsible of me. I think, however, that you nailed the challenge, well at least a challenge, of consciously trying to go dark and depressing, how far do you go, when do you pull back and how best to offer relief to readers who have clearly earned it? Also, for those who might be down with this kind of thing, I had a new interview run at the Big Other this week where I touch on some of this, while simultaneously trying not to touch Ryan Gosling.

labels's picture
labels from texas is reading sophie's world by jostein gaarder March 29, 2012 - 10:44am

Having already read You Can Make Him Like You, I thought this book had the same addictive... I don't know... readability?  That sounds right.  I feel like we talked about this in the cult discussion but yeah, the short chapters are a part of it... I think it's more the general style though.  I mean, the chapters are short because you don't spend very much time dwelling on any one thing.  A few words on the father's illness, briefly moving on to the son's emotions, then talk about a scene with his coworker, one game of pool... then you get to the point where all these moments have added up to an emotional epiphany that actually feels real because every little chapter was a step there.  I suppose that's what just about every book should do but I think Tanzer's kind of sneak up on you.  I totallyyy agree with Wickedvoodoo's comment that it feels like a journal... even though it's a quick read, when he says 18 months have gone by... it seems about right.  

Interestingly, maybe, I have had a number of male readers and male friends tell me that they did not plan to read the book because of a death, some recent, some not, that they did want to have to revisit because of the book. On the other hand, female readers and female friends have had the opposite reaction, and have torn into it knowing some recent death was hovering over their shoulder as they read it, but found that for them it provided some kind of salve.   

Hahaha... that's interesting.  I'm a girl and I read half of this book in what felt like 10 minutes but then stopped and I had a hard time picking it back up again.  I was obviously glad I did though.  If it weren't for the fact that is IS so easy to get lost in the story, I doubt I could've willed myself to read a book with this subject matter.  But I'm not the kind of person who actively seeks out stories that wallow in their own tragedy.  I've read Nicholas Sparks.  I probably wouldn't ever do so again though.  I think the sadness in this book is more relatable because of how hard he fights against it.  That's such a horrible part of death... trying to figure out how to react appropriately... because it feels self centered but everyone must think about it... maybe it's true that a lot of men struggle with this more than most women though.  I hate to generalize so broadly but I've written it and now I must stick to it.

 

I just kind of ramble in these threads but I definitely want to say that I loved chapter 37.  The one where he talks to himself.  Just thought it was kind of fantastically done.  And the bits of humor throughout the book were great.  I liked the Marcus moment.  Like Pete, I so appreciate that you ended it on a positive note.  Life does move on and your endings are so good at expressing that.

 

I do have a question though... I kind of want to know more about the painting on the cover... it's really cool picture just on its own... I see a person's feet and calves standing in shallow water while another person dips their toe in.  Could be completely wrong about that but whatever... it fits with beautifully with the story.  All the way down to the signature.  

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. March 29, 2012 - 7:20pm

Firstly, sorry for not being in the thread more. Been a crazy busy month. However I have been following your guys conversation and it made some interesting reading.

Interestingly, maybe, I have had a number of male readers and male friends tell me that they did not plan to read the book because of a death, some recent, some not, that they did want to have to revisit because of the book. On the other hand, female readers and female friends have had the opposite reaction, and have torn into it knowing some recent death was hovering over their shoulder as they read it, but found that for them it provided some kind of salve.

I don't have as personal an experience with the death of a family member as many, but I have seen it a lot of times as a third party and I honestly think that this book could be good for a person who is grieving. (grief can and will start before the actual death of a loved one, grief will begin at the bedside, or even in the kitchen or walking across the back yard) I don't want to sound callous as it's only speculation, but I can see how having another person's insight into a similar situation to one's own could be helpful. Especially from a book, such an intimate and personal medium. This book could do the right kind of person a lot of good, by giving them a private voice to listen to, a friend that will be thinking along similar lines to themselves, will be living through something similar on the page as that person is in life.

In terms of the journal entry vibe, I should also say, that some of the content from the book is torn right from the journal I kept while my father was sick, I had initially imagined doing something more like a memoir, but it just didn't work for me, and I always wanted the book in whatever form it was in to be a homage to The Basketball Diaries, so at a minimum, and along with everything we've discussed so far, I wanted the journal entry vibe, because I somehow wanted to evoke how that book read to me, intimate, cringe-inducing, vivid and kind of transformative.

Aha, I thought so. Haven't read The Basketball Diaries (I saw the movie, thought it was so-so) But this book screamed of insider knowlede, of a first hand account. I don't know that anyone could write it so convincingly had they not gone through it, or at least been very close to someone who had.

even when thinking about it all coming to an end is the worst thing you can imagine it doesn't mean there aren't moments where that doesn't seem easier, not preferred, just easier.

From what I have seen, this rings true. I have seen the guilt/relief (yes, it can be both) for being able to express these kind of feelings bring many people to tears. Working on a ward where we often have terminal patients, I find that early on, particularly when relatives are bedside, relatives can almost seem to find resevoirs of strength they didn't know they had. Talk to them away from the patient though, in an environment where certain elephants are taken from the room by us staff being so over-exposed to these situations, where we can be more frank and honest, (note that doesn't mean cruel) and we often see a different side to it. Many a time I have heard a sentiment similar to this one. "It would be easier if," is a telling phrase. These people have often been dealing with grief for months. They are tired. They have a conflict of emotion and they don't know how to express it then when you give them chance to vent, suddenly a whole lot comes out. They surprise themselves sometimes, because that might have been the very first chance they can say such things without feeling guilty.

I think it (being able to get that measure of distance) may be one of the few advantages of dying in hospital as opposed to at home (a massive healthcare issue in the UK in recent years). At least it is an advantage for the relatives and loved ones of the ill person. Which, as this book is from such a persons point of view, seems pretty relevant.

Anyway, yeah. Good book. Kudos for taking such a powerful swing at a really tough topic. I am going to order another of your books sometime soon, as this one impressed me.

Rock on!

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. March 29, 2012 - 7:08pm

Urgh. My browser just freaked out. Sorry for the duplicate posts.
 

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. March 29, 2012 - 7:06pm

Urgh. My browser just freaked out. Sorry for the duplicate posts.