Winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap is a riveting page-turner and a powerful, haunting rumination on contemporary middle-class family life. When a man slaps a child who is not his own at a neighborhood barbecue, the act triggers a series of repercussions in the lives of the people who witness the event-causing them to reassess their values, expectations, and desires. For readers of Jonathan Franzen and Tom Perrotta, this is a compelling account of modern society and the way we live today.
I will start with the caveat that I am a big fan of Australian literature, and this book was no exception. I had a lot of mixed reactions to the book – it was very well written, and certainly deserving of literary attention, but definitely controversial. Tsiolkas is Greek by birth, and he spent a lot of time on prejudice & how it plays out in Australia, starkly exposing the prejudices and biases that pervade Australian life. What was intriguing to me is how these prejudices & biases are nearly a mirror of those that we contend with in the US, though the clashing cultures have different backgrounds. The difficulties that arise when cultures interact (and clash) are so similar to what we encounter here in the US that it makes for a story that is easy to relate to and easy to understand.
Tsiolkas did what I believe to be an extraordinary job of writing authentically on controversial subjects without falling into the silly stereotypes of bigots & bigotry. I like that he makes a point to try & reflect human nature and how we contend with cultural, political, spiritual and personal controversy. It would have been very easy for him to hyperbolize these characteristics – and that is a very effective writing tool (the use of the grotesque) – but in this context I believe that the realistic portrayal of daily life in the wake of a very controversial incident shone a light on the good and bad (and sometimes ridiculous) in fairly equal measure.
I loved the book, the setting, the writing style, the insights. Even where I objected to beliefs or actions, I liked that they were presented because they represent life as we know it.