Thursday, January 28, 2010

missed it the first time: Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine by Ben Tanzer

Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine
By Ben Tanzer

Orange Alert, 2008
Review by Josh S.

I approach most of the reviews on Deckfight divided. My mind is rarely made up before I sit down. I write and somehow make up my mind. Like most writers (I think), the writing process is a process of decision making. It is through this act I make up my mind, not before I write.

So it goes with Ben Tanzer’s
Most Likely. A book I was sure I was going to love, only to find that I admired its craft far more than its actual story; that’s the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever given, (perhaps I hit it out of bounds?). This is a story of one couple (two maybe), Jen and Geoff. Jen and Geoff are overly anxious about one another, somewhat repelled by each other, but enthralled enough to start breaking the manufactured dating rules, enthralled enough to wonder if after only a couple dates if this relationship is THE relationship, enthralled that this relationship in being THE relationship may be the relationship that breaks all the rules that their single friends and acquaintances still follow.

Think Annie Hall, or more recently 500 Days of Summer with a lot of dialogue and self-analysis and that’s Most Likely. The story is set in the early months of this decade, a key fact for understanding their position in life and their use of landline phones. In some ways, this is also the trusty buddy comedy, the most interesting lines and advice and scenes come from the repeated office-advice scenarios, something familiar for anyone with a girlfriend/boyfriend that the office knows about. No advice is solicited, but relationships are the one topic where everyone has advice.

Ben Tanzer!

Repetition is important here, so important that I didn’t realize that it was central to Ben’s writing strategy, which initially made me loathe it a bit. At first, I didn’t get the threads like “Geoff finds Paul and asks him if he wants to spark one in the alley behind the office. They spark one.” Ben was being kind of glib and stupid in an effort to be too ironic and too flat, but the humor came to me and by the end of the book, I got the trope and looked forward to it, especially advice from Descartes the management guru.

And then I got it or think I got it. The office scenes were routine and everyday in light of a possible, life-altering, non-routine relationship. What was thought initially to be routine eventually became something beyond the routine, but it all started in the routine. And that routine expanded beyond just simple office scenarios, but also into how Geoff and Jen date, their old routines influenced by habit and family and friends. Everyone has dirty laundry and it must be sorted through. Speaking of rules and dirty laundry, I’ll be honest, I was surprised at the frankness of sex in this book. I thought there would be more conversations about condoms and diseases and other contraceptives, especially since so much is exchanged not with friends but complete strangers--maybe there’s a stereotype, maybe it’s real-life, maybe it’s too real to make a point, or at least that worked with the rebound girl Claudia, so I think I talked myself around to understanding it---so it makes sense then with Geoff and Jen because it didn’t make sense for Geoff and Claudia. I got it now, I guess.

Written in short bursts (84 chapters in about 175 pages) and mostly in dialogue, Most Likely flies and every word that the characters speak is casual, but important. The use of dialogue was a highlight for me, I too am really intrigued by fiction just told in conversations between characters with little narration--I think the technique is under-appreciated, under-taught and under-utilized. And Ben has such an ear for it, a great mimicker of natural rhythms and conversations that each character is easily defined by their conversations, a task that as people we do all the time, though in writing is so much harder to nail down. So way to go Ben! (that was a forehanded compliment).

Buy Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine at Orange Alert.
Visit Ben's blog
here. Read Ben's Friday Five.


  1. What a nice surprise, thank you for the thoughtful words and the deft use of both backhanded and forehanded compliments.

  2. yeah, sweet surprise. like a syrupy nectar.


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