Holy shit! Story366 turns 100 today! One hundred days, that is. Still, there’s got to be some kind of commemoration for reaching this milestone, hasn’t there? Will Willard Scott wish it well? Can it go on Johnny Carson? Will Denny’s give it a free blog breakfast?
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if Story366 would make it to a hundred posts in a hundred days, as I’m not usually so dedicated to projects, especially one as challenging (time-wise) as this one. Yet, here we are, on the hundredth day of 2016, and I haven’t missed a post yet. Yay for me!
It seems like I should be the one to celebrate today’s milestone post, not the ghosts of Johnny Carson or Willard Scott. Like on February 29, the actual 366th day of the year, I feel like I should do a landmark story. For Leap Day, I chose one of my favorite writers, Dan Chaon. For today, since it’s still Books I Got at AWP Week, I had a limited amount of authors to choose from. Lucky for me, I picked up a book by one of my favorite people in the writing world, Ben Tanzer. Ben works for Curbside Splendor, who published my last two books, and has become a good friend. I’m so glad to be featuring him today, for this centennial entry.
I got Sex and Death at the Alternating Currents Press reading, and like with Carmen Lau, I missed his reading, arriving too late. Still, it was nice to give Ben a hug, have him sign a copy of his new book, and listen to a couple of other writers. I was able to read through this little book today—it’s more a chapbook than a full-length collection—and have chosen “Anatomy of the Affair” as today’s focus.
Like all the stories in Sex and Death, “Anatomy of the Affair” deals with a guy at a certain point in his life. It’s the point at which he realizes that sex is very different thing than it was for him when he was a teenager, a young man, or even a sexually active adult on the dating scene. He is (like both Tanzer and me) in his early forties, he has a family, and he is insightful about himself, his place in the world, his role as a sexual being. I’m cutting off the actual comparisons between Tanzer and myself here, though, as the characters in Sex and Death—which might be the same character throughout—actually act on a lot of the feelings and thoughts and fears that most forty-something men have; I doubt Tanzer has done some of these things only to write about them later. What I’m saying is, Sex and Death is a pre-midlife crisis book, exploring what it’s like for a guy to not quite be considered old, but to no longer be considered young and virile, let alone an active player in sexual landscape. Hence the title, which represents the two forces pulling at these characters, the sexual freedom of youth on one end, their inevitable end at the other.
“Anatomy of the Affair” starts with one of the most recognizable image of sex that we have come to know: A man and a woman, post-sex, curled around each other in bed. They are resting, contemplative, perhaps ready to move on, perhaps building up energy for another go. I think of the countless movie and TV scenes, using this moment to represent the encounter, the bed sheet strategically placed so that the man’s chest is bare but the woman’s is not, as if all couples, post-coitus, are posing for a PG-13 movie or TV drama being shot from above. I like that as a choice to start the story because it is so familiar, so conventional, and that’s what Tanzer is getting at in this book, how typical it is for men to find themselves in these situations, at the exact point when the affair has happened, when it’s officially too late to take it back. The feelings of surprise and excitement and confusion and regret sink in as they lie there, holding on to the moment as the ramifications start to overwhelm. It’s why Tanzer writes this story, and most in Sex and Death, in second person—he’s pointing at the reader, telling us that yeah, if we haven’t been there already, we will be. It’s inevitable. Almost cliché.
“Anatomy of the Affair” is one of the longer stories in Sex and Death, but isn’t really that long, so I won’t give too much more away. What this protagonist considers, his new lover snoozing at the crook of his arm, involves a lot of the elements you’d expect: Alcohol was present. The affair happened unexpectedly. The woman, however, is someone he knows, someone he’s flirted with and fantasized about before. Tanzer again utilizes familiar routes because he’s saying this could happen to you, that no matter how much you don’t want to be that guy, how you try to stay faithful; these opportunities, these MISTAKES, stare every guy down. Not every man in Sex and Death indulges in these escapades, but the guy in “Anatomy of the Affair” certainly does and this story is what goes through his mind immediately after. None of it helps him to escape the fact.
Tanzer is the author of several books fiction and nonfiction, all on small presses, and is, overall, a great literary citizen: a writer, a teacher, and editor. He’s a nice guy, too. You should get to know him and his work.