by Ben Tanzer
Artistically Declined Press – $12.00
Keith, the narrator of Ben Tanzer’s You Can Make Him Like You, describes himself as “a selfish cocksucker” in the novel’s early pages. He’s a married Chicago Gold Coast-dwelling Republican who has slept with eight people in his entire life. He works in marketing. He likes dogs, U2, and palatable indie rock. He fantasizes about other women. This makes him more of a “regular asshole” than a “selfish cocksucker,” and those expecting to hear tales of selfish cocksuckery be warned: Keith fellates absolutely no one in You Can Make Him Like You, least of all himself. The book is a laugh-out-loud story of what most would call the average straight dude, swimming upstream against a torrent of pop culture banality and personal neuroses to achieve the one validation of adulthood he lacks: parenthood.
Keith is a man who spends most of his energy actively not indulging his impulses. Keith doesn’t plow the intern. He meets a lost love at a high school reunion, and after discussing how they never hooked up, decides he’d prefer not to. At one point, Keith also goes to a bar and chooses to not get in a fight. He’s not some Taoist doing-not-doing guru, he’s a torn-up wreck who feels bad about even wanting to do all these things he never does. Instead, he jogs, reads celebrity news online, judges his friends, idolizes The Shield’s Vic Mackey, drinks a bit too much, gets bossed around by his wife, and tells himself that this is the life he wants. Keith is Babbitt in a faded The Hold Steady t-shirt that he only wears to bed anymore. Now, there’s a baby on the way, and that’s a problem. And it’s all pretty damn funny, and digs deeper than you might expect.
You Can Make Him Like You is told in an engaging first-person that quietly denies the urgency and agony of feeling one’s identity becoming subsumed by a life as expected as a marketing campaign. It instead explores the bigger fear of not being “good” enough to even make it that far. Fortunately, there is love and fatherhood to bring our hero to something bigger than himself. There’s much to smile about in Tanzer’s latest. After all, if Keith can get it together to look for a sense of personal completion, then maybe there’s hope for all of us.