Though Ben Tanzer’s new collection of short stories is mostly set in domestic spaces and everyday places like homes, airplanes, baseball fields, school events and Facebook, in noir fashion, “Sex and Death” is rife with femme fatales, con games, affairs, jealous spouses, pasts which characters can never entirely leave behind, and even some riddles, wrapped in mysteries, inside enigmas.
Most of Tanzer’s characters claim to be just “fine,” but they are simultaneously imprisoned by binds that tie, harried with work, and hellbent on not becoming their parents, “waiting for an opening, a weakness, something you can grab hold of, and then twist, pull, prod and arrange into something different and useful.” These openings are often made way by ennui, curiosity and unresolved pasts. A married man suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar sheets with “the moist smell of sex still lingering in the air” after seemingly-innocuous-though-ultimately-flirtatious exchanges with a married woman from his kid’s school. A widow considers reaching out to her late husband’s mistress, “the only other person in the world who might be able to mirror [her] feelings of love and loss.” A man flashes back to boyhood and tries to put certain recurring memories together to make sense of his parents’ failed relationship. A married woman, unsure if she wants to stay with “the husband who sometimes feels like a sibling or friend,” reconnects with an old flame on Facebook for a little excitement, until things get strange.
As characters investigate answers to why and how certain things come to be, a magnifying glass is put on moments–”moments that set a tone,” those that seem to have a life, momentum and inevitability of their own, those in which decisions must be made and fates are sealed. Such moments also cause us to weigh societal expectations against the reality of human impulses, and greater existential considerations.
Tanzer’s stories are rich and relevant. His storytelling style is also what makes the stories so engrossing; intimate and urgent, slyly slipping between past and present, and sometimes conflating the two. (Amy Danzer)
“Sex and Death”
By Ben Tanzer
Sunnyoutside Press, 72 pages, $13
Ben Tanzer reads as part of Tellin’ Tales Theatre, at the Fillet of Solo Festival, Lifeline Theatre, 6912 North Glenwood, (773)761-4477, January 31, 4pm, $10.
Toni Nealie is the Literary Editor of Newcity and the author of the essay collection “The Miles Between Me.” A Pushcart Prize nominee, her essays have appeared in Guernica Magazine, Rust Belt: Chicago, The Rumpus, The Offing, Essay Daily, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hobart, Entropy and elsewhere. She worked in magazine journalism, politics and PR in her native New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Singapore and now edits, writes and teaches in Chicago. Find her at toninealie.com and on Twitter @tnealie. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.