The Slap

 by Chris Tsiolkas – 2010/496 pages
 narrated by Alex Dimitriades/ 15h. 42m.
 rating ? (later)
 I am sooooo glad I am finished with this book.  I feel a bit dirty and like I’ve been overly  involved    with a soap-opera.
 Friends and family gather for a barbecue.  The uncontrolled 3 year-old child of one couple gets seriously out of  line and Rosie, his mother does nothing to restrain or redirect him.  He’s about to mash another larger boy when that boy’s father intervenes and slaps the 3 year-old.  Rosie gets extremely upset and the group breaks up.  Rosie and her hubby Gary file charges and the families and friends break along loyalty lines. Even the in-laws get involved. Along the way the low points of Western culture as we know it today are touched – child rearing, racism, drugs, homosexuality,  race, ethnicity, sexism, agism, adultery  … and I probably missed a few.
Okay – Tsiolkas can write pretty well and he’s brave to venture into these areas without (surprisingly enough) giving me the feeling he’s doing it primarily for shock value.  I’m certainly not sure what the reason is for writing such a novel, though.   I didn’t feel at all enlightened or even much interested – just an inside peek at the boring and degenerate lives of friends and family whose instincts for self-preservation seem to be based on how much sex and/or  drugs they can get ahold of  to hush the secrets which are killing them.  The female characters were each a bit different but the male characters all seem very much the same and with so many that makes it rough going for the reader.
The issues themselves are all tangled and at drama-queen intensity from some while everyone else is saying,  “Calm down.”   There are too many characters whose moral constitution is thread-bare .  Simply speaking,  imo,  they’re trash.  I do miss the old Victorian novels which presented moral dilemmas in light of the way people ought to live and behave and speak rather than digging as deeply into the dirt of the reality (?)  as possible.
Maybe I just don’t know how young couples live these days but none of this has anything to do with anything I’m familiar with.  Yes, of course I know that drugs are rampant. Yes, of course I know that people have trouble with sex,  including teens and homosexuality, and child-raising. Yes, I know that there are a lot of different cultures trying to live side by side and intimately.
So on the one hand I see this book as being nothing more than what’s on Days of Our Lives but on the other hand it may be a peak into the reality of our lives.  I honestly don’t know.  It’s not a reality I’m familiar with nor one that I want to be familiar with.
Later – after reading reviews and listening to author readings and interviews I’m far more sympathetic to the themes Tsiolkas was working with and I guess he hit it right on –  society has become extremely selfish in the 21st century – almost as if we’re a bunch of baby Hugos.  Great theme,  well developed – painful to read.

4 Responses to The Slap

  1. Yes, it’s not a pleasant read but I liked it a lot … I liked how he picked up a number of issues in modern society and teased them out. I also felt he was showing the sense of violence that is lurking there all the time. I hate the way people are even verbally violent to each other … How there’s such lack of generosity towards other. We’d rather swear at someone who’s just irritated us, on the road, in the mall, wherever, than think they might be having a bad day, their life isn’t as good as mine, they were momentarily distracted … Etc. For me, this book, raised all of this … And it’s truly sad. Did the miniseries make it your way?


  2. I think maybe The Slap made more sense in Australia. Would you call it a novel of manners? (heh) I truly enjoyed NW which presents some rather seamy stuff – I wonder if there are any books about the US which present a hard, harsh reality in a literary format – maybe Salvage the Bones? I wasn’t big on that one, either. Freedom and The Corrections don’t quite hold up.


    • Good questions Bekah … Novel of manners? I guess it could be called that. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I don’t know Salvage the bones, but have read the other two. The corrections would be closer to my mind but it’s more of a satire isn’t it? At least as I recollect. I probably haven’t read enough recent American literature to have a good opinion on this.


  3. Is The Slap not a satire? (I don’t know.) It’s so different from the way I live that I had a hard time seeing the reality of it. All my prudish American ways were aroused. But Salvage the Bones (about a seriously poor family and their dogs during Hurricane Katrina) was also way too harsh and rather awful yet somehow trying to present this reality as “normal.” The Corrections was about far more middle class / “proper” folks. Good grief I sound snobbish.


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