Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Reviews Reloaded: The Slap

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on February 3, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

The Slap -- Christos Tsiolkas
Penguin Books
496 pages

What would happen if you were at a party where an adult slapped a child who was not their own? What if it was your own child who was struck? How would you react? The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas attempts to answer that very question. This novel is told from eight separate points of view, each with their own, differing opinions about the event as well as the child and adult involved.

At the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Hector, the host of the picnic where the event takes place. The father of two children, Hector is not entirely sold on having all the people over to his house, but acquiesces to his wife. His children are joined by another child who, from the moment he arrives, upsets the balance of power. He causes trouble and when confronted, he runs to his mother who coddles her six year old son by allowing him to breastfeed.

After being comforted, he runs back into the fray, where after only a few minutes, a cry arises again from the group of children. This time, before the child can retreat to the relative safety of his mother’s breast, another parent, Harry, slaps the screaming child in an attempt to startle the child into silence. At this point, all heck breaks loose. Picnic attendees are immediately drawn into two camps; ones who are appalled and one who are noncommittal.

While the focus of the story initially centered on the actual slap, as the reader moves from character’s story to character’s story, we find a much deeper plot. It’s not only the reaction from each character over the assault, but also how they truly feel about each other. What we’re left with are the dirty secrets behind the average, idyllic face of a suburban neighborhood.

Infidelity and suspected domestic violence lurk in the shadows, while rumors run rampant on the breeze. Face to face, all are smiles. Once the characters retreat to the privacy of their homes and the privacy of their thoughts, the smiles disappear.  This novel is a case study on the differences between social acceptance and personal animosity.

I think that what I like best about this novel is its extreme character development. These characters are defined by the struggles they face as a result of “the slap.” At the same time, they take a look at their own lives to evaluate what type of person they could be, and how they could be friends with such a “monster.” Additionally, the struggle with relationships within their own families as some members come down on different sides with the issue.

Each character gets about 75 pages to detail their point of view. While it seems like that is not a lot of space, Tsiolkas packs a lot of punch into those pages. His narrative moves at a rapid clip, and sometimes it seems a character’s section has come much too quickly. The character development is that engaging, even if a few of the characters themselves aren’t really that likeable.

I really would like to tell you more about each of the eight characters. However, too much of their development directly affect the plot of the story. This is one of those book you just will have to read for yourself. I assure you that if you like well developed characters driving the story, you will like this book. You get eight distinct voices reacting to the same event, something that can be challenging for a writer to pull off.

In The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas, delivers a strong performance. His characters all are well-rounded and have individual fatal flaws that allows them to play off each other. Sometimes the interactions flow smoothly. Other times, the friction is exactly how feuds begin, and linger. Combined together, Tsiolkas has created a realistic universe that is fun to read and judge in our own wildly judgemental and voyeuristic ways.

The upcoming miniseries will be told in eight parts, likely a single episode for each of the main characters to shine. I hope that some of you will read the book before the show begins to gather the nuances that tie this story together so well. And hopefully, the miniseries can capture the warmth, flow and conflict of the original writing. I know I will try to catch the television series -- if I don’t forget. (Sometimes with a large family, little things like TV get lost.)

Craig Bacon has never slapped another parent’s child, although he has been slapped by others. And probably deserved it.