Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again, by Ben Tanzer. Chicago, Illinois: Curbside Splendor Publishing. 200 pages. $12.00, paper.
I don’t read a lot of essay collections and I’m way pickier about the essays I read. I’ll pretty much read any work of fiction if it’s short enough, but essays, no. I wish I could explain exactly why or what it is, but I cannot. All I know is that when an essay is put in front of me, I only want to read it if it’s really really good. I don’t hold fiction to the same standard, although I should. On one hand, I think it has something to do with the fact that if someone is making something up, piecing words and feelings and details on a page to tell me something that’s fiction, I’ll cut them some slack. It’s art. It’s creation. It needs some room to breathe. On the other hand, essays/nonfiction, just gimme the facts, man. I mean, you can tell me how you felt and why it mattered and where you are now and how lovely or awful or heartbreaking or ridiculous things were but give it to me straight.
That being said, I really dig the essays written by women like Jill Talbot and Roxane Gay and Megan Stielstra and Anne Lamott. Lost in Space by Ben Tanzer was my first dive into a full collection of essays written by a man. A father, a son, a husband. It is a collection of essays about family and marriage and fatherhood and grieving and those moments in between: when a parent sees a light come on in a child’s eyes, when children ask parents if they are going to die someday, when kids ask about sex or say completely inappropriate things in front of a group of people or the parenting anxiety that creeps over the hunched, exhausted shoulders of a mother and father thinking their child has some horrible disease or won’t sleep or won’t eat or won’t do all of the things the pediatrician/baby books/Internet says they should be doing.
There is something for everyone here, parent or not, man or not, married or not. There is something for everyone here because most of all it is a book about being human. About how being a human is hard and fun and scary and weird and effed up and freaky and awesome and magical and spiritual and pedestrian and ridiculous and exciting and crazy and romantic and sexy and depressing and shiny and and and. And.
It is a book about love. The love we have for our parents, for our children, for our spouses, for the childhood movies we want to force our children to watch with us. Tanzer makes a list that includes The Warriors and Alien in his essay titled “The Mel Gibson Interlude: Or, What We Talk About When We Talk About Movies.” In “The Darth Vader Interlude: Dads Who Rock and Those Who Kind of Suck Ass,” Tanzer makes a list of The Rock Star Dads and The Suck-Ass Dads. Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights and Atticus Finch? Rock Stars. Darth Vader and Ryan O’Neal? Suck-Ass.
There are accidents and school shootings and childhood leukemia and kidnappers and pedophiles and heartbreakingly terrible tragedies and all of these things, things, things that could happen to us/our children at any given moment that sometimes I wonder how we even dare to do this. To keep going, to keep believing, to keep fighting. Lost in Space digs into all of those muddy holes, those oceans, those sloppy, bloody beating hearts. How is our parenting shaped by our own parents? How do we keep on keeping on when it’s the last thing we want to do? Will it matter, does it matter, do we matter? What is love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me.)
Lost in Space is funny. I genuinely laughed out loud and stopped my husband from reading the telephone book-sized Volume One of Shelby Foote’s Civil War to point out a blow job joke in the essay called “Bed Sex” which is about Tanzer’s oldest son, Myles, and Tanzer bumbling through his attempt at a Sex Talk. Hilarious. And most parents can identify with that awkward awesomeness.
I, like Tanzer, have two children. I have a boy and a girl, Tanzer has two boys. It is a book for me, as well as a book for someone who wouldn’t ever consider having children. It is a book for the guy who gets the phone call/voicemail/text that his girlfriend’s period is late. It is a book for the woman who thinks she doesn’t like essay collections. It is a book for the guy whose dad never made it to one Little League game. It is a book for a mother who thinks she will never sleep again. It is a book for a father who wonders if he is doing anything right at all.
Lost in Space is a gem. It is a cozy, sweet read, at times easy, at times not. It is a book with a heartbeat that should be read on the beach (that’s what I did) or at the pool or on the bus or before bed or with morning coffees or weekend lunchtime beers. It should be laughed at and cried at and worn-out and passed around from heartbeating-human to heartbeating-human and when it gets really quiet, you will be able to hear that this book has a heartbeat of its own.
Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker living and writing in Kentucky. Every Kiss a War (Mojave River Press, 2014) is her debut short story collection. Her work has appeared in places like Carve Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Little Fiction, Midwestern Gothic and Word Riot, among others. She and her husband run a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. Find more at LeesaCrossSmith.com.