Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Freebie: My Father's House by Ben Tanzer

Congratulations to Michael Cooper, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: Glass by Sam Savage.

This week's book giveaway is My Father's House by Ben Tanzer which came out earlier this year from the small-press Main Street Rag.  It's a short novel about a social worker and his dying father--maybe not the cheeriest of subjects for the holiday season.  But then again, maybe you're ready for some cathartic family drama after the T-Day get-together.  Michael Fitzgerald (author of Radiant Days) had this to say about My Father's House:
Few things remind us we're utterly alone in this universe like our dads dying. At the same time, few things can remind us we're all in this together like great literature. In My Father's House, Tanzer took the first and made the latter. It's a sincere and important book full of grace, beauty, and… I'm happy to report…a delicious humor. I can't recommend it highly enough.

When I received my copy of Tanzer's novel, I did what I always do with new books coming into my library: I read the first two paragraphs.  Except in this case, I ended up reading several pages because Tanzer's style of writing is so clear, direct and compelling.  With the author's permission, I'm excerpting the entire first chapter here so you can get a good feel for the rest of the book:
      I don't even remember how this started exactly.
      I know it was 1999 and I know that my father had a seizure. I know his blood didn't look right. And that there was something going on with his bone marrow that looked to be pre-cancerous, but needed to be confirmed with a genetic test.
      I also know it turned out that he has myelodisplasia, a rare form of bone cancer that causes immature bone marrow cells to explode before reaching maturity; that these explosions are known as blasts and without treatment these blasts are going to escalate until he has full-blown Leukemia.
      The doctor at Sloan-Kettering says that my dad may have been sick for awhile because his red blood cells looked low as early as last summer. The doctor also said that my dad needs a bone marrow transplant and that the disease is worse then they thought and progressing, though it's just hard to imagine how that's possible.
      My mom says people can walk in to see a doctor, hear they have this disease and die three months later. Of course, she also says that people who get bone marrow transplants can live five more healthy years.
      The thing is there needs to be a match, and while siblings are the best bet, it turns out that they only match about twenty-five percent of the time. In comparison, children only match about three percent of the time, however, so they won't even test my brother Jerry and I until they are truly desperate.
      So, maybe my uncles will be a match. Or maybe it will be Jerry or I. And if it is one of us then maybe they will wheel us into some cold and antiseptic hospital room and put tubes into our lower back and then very slowly draw the bone marrow that could very well save my dad's life.
      That would be something wouldn't it?
      Sure it would, though this is assuming of course that he doesn't die on the operating table, that his body doesn't then reject the transplant or that some opportunistic infection doesn't wreak havoc on his now compromised immune system.
      But let's say that there is a match, and that these things don't happen, who knows what's possible, right? I can feel a little hopeful, can't I? Well, I don't actually know that anyone would quite say that, because I don't know that anyone really knows anything, most of all me.
      I do know though that I have this image of the old man that I plan to hold on to. I pulled up to the house with my wife Kerri today and when I arrived my father was up on the porch leaning over the rail and tending to his bushes. He was in his ratty old Cape Cod sweatshirt and he was surrounded by all this foliage and shrubbery. It was this brilliant day and he was smiling up there, all active and healthy looking, tending to his plants, the plants he planted with his bare hands. He looked so peaceful and focused up there, nothing like he could have looked like, tired and sallow, beat-down and sickly looking. And before I yelled hello I paused to take it all in, my old man, Monet-like, in his garden, relaxed and happy.
      It's the image I won't let go of. It's a keeper.

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of this keeper-novel, all you have to do is answer this question:

What is the name of Ben Tanzer's blog?  (The answer can be found on this page.)

Email your answer to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Dec. 1--at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 2.

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