Excerpted from The Slippery Year by Melanie Gideon. Copyright © 2009 by Melanie Gideon. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q: What is a “Slippery Year”?
A: Simply put, a Slippery Year is a year in which we are in the process of transformation. We’ve got one arm in the coat of our old life (a coat that no longer fits us—the sleeves are too short) and one arm in the coat of our new life (which doesn’t fit us yet either—the sleeves are too long). A Slippery Year is a call to awaken. Change is coming for you, whether you like it or not.
Q: Why did you decide to write about yours?
A: Change came for me in the form of the tricked-out, jacked up, four-by-four van with a diesel engine and a cattle guard on its front bumper that my husband bought over the Internet. He had all these dreams of our driving to Baja in it, of living an adventurous life. Well, I hated the thing on sight. It was so enormous it barely fit in our driveway. Obviously this was his midlife crisis vehicle. But there was one problem. He wasn’t going through a midlife crisis—I was. In fact, he was sailing through midlife doing exactly what all the literature said you should do! Find new hobbies! Take up new sports. Ingest fish oil tablets. No, I was the one stuck, unwilling to push myself out of my comfort zone. Somehow, when I wasn’t paying attention (which was most of the time), I had slipped outside of my life, and I knew if I didn't do something about it I might slip out of my life for good.
Q: You write in your introduction: I am one of the millions who is currently walking around in a daze, no longer recognizing herself, wondering “Is this all there is?” Do you think this is a uniquely feminine experience?
A: Noooooo, I do not think this is unique to women! Are you kidding me? Our puppy wonders if this is all there is every day. I see it on his face when he’s done with his kibble, or when I give him one scratch behind the ear instead of two. “Is this all there is” is the human condition. Most of us are too smart to admit it, however, and for good reason, because people might want to throw eggs at you if you confess this. I felt guilty asking this question, especially because I had a lot. I had no right to complain. I had a wonderful partner and a healthy child and we had a house and we both had jobs. Even so, there was this flatness, this indifference. I had become an observer rather than a participant. Everybody, no matter what they have, still has something they need and long for. I wanted to feel my life deeply again.
Q: This book is sure to garner comparisons to another book, the one where a woman re-evaluates her life in a year but has the luxury to do so while sipping Montepulciano in Rome, or practicing yoga in India. How does THE SLIPPERY YEAR differ?
A: Well, first let me say I love that book and appreciate that there are many ways to embark on a journey of transformation. Sometimes we do need to physically go to another country to jar ourselves awake. And sometimes that other country is inside of you. The Slippery Year is about the transformation that happens when we choose to stay put. When we choose to open our eyes to the bounty of our ordinary flawed, ludicrous, and yet often miraculous lives. I’m talking about miracles of the tiny sort. Like sharing a bag of Twizzlers with your son or beating your best friend at bocce. Now, excuse me for a second while I go Google Montepulciano.
Q: You have a caring, devoted husband and a precocious, loving son. You have a nice home and live within driving distance of a Trader Joe's. Are you worried about the reaction to a book where you question all that you have?
A: For those of you who will not be slipping away to Italy any time soon but instead are attempting to open your eyes to your ludicrous and yet often miraculous lives, Montepulciano is a fruity, dry wine with soft tannins. Yes—of course I’m worried about people’s reactions. That’s why I put off writing a memoir for so long. What right did I have to write a memoir? I hadn’t suffered enough. I wasn’t different enough. You, know, I actually made a list of things I could write a memoir about. Things that set me apart—that were worthy of a memoir. It was a pathetic list. There was one item on it: I was a twin. This used to be a big deal. At least when I was growing up in the sixties before IVF. Now, being a twin has lost most of its cachet. You have to be a quadruplet or a sextuplet to write a memoir about it. Instead I decided to write about all the ordinary things that mattered: children, dogs, sisters, love, loss, the passage of time, and all the reasons to go on living when the only thing we can be sure of it that one day it will all end.
Q: I now know that you straighten your hair, love Almond Joys, and use a Stress Eraser while you wait in the carpool line. Does it make you nervous to know that strangers are not only privy to your inner anxieties but also to the minutiae of your daily life?
A: What worries me the most is being outed as a person who Stress Erases. I have been ruminating obsessively about next year in the carpool line. Complete strangers will knock on my window asking to borrow my Stress Eraser, and I’ll have to tell them, no, I haven’t completed my daily total of 100 relaxing breaths, and having that conversation will completely reverse the benefit of the 32 relaxing breaths I will have done up to that point. Then I will have to start all over.
Q: You write: “Marriage changes passion. Suddenly you’re in bed with a relative.” What was your husband’s reaction to this book?
A: Well, I wasn’t stupid. I didn’t let him read it until I was done. Then as I passed him the manuscript, I told him what he was holding in his hands was a love story—and he might not think that upon the first read, but give it a little time. My husband, being the wise, sweet, generous man that he is, agreed.
A few months later that is.
Q: How have you changed your life since you finished writing THE SLIPPERY YEAR, and what do you hope readers will take away from it?
A: The Slippery Year began with a van. The van was really a metaphor for the adventure that was missing in my life. I like to think of this book as my van: writing it was my adventure. I only wish I could have ordered the book over the Internet—like my husband did with the van—and spared myself all that work. I hope readers will laugh and be comforted and perhaps see some of themselves in these pages. I wrote this book so I wouldn’t feel alone—alone in the carpool line, alone in my questions about marriage and motherhood, and alone in my attempts to make sense of my life. I definitely feel less alone these days. Especially since our puppy has peed on every carpet in the house, so wherever I walk I get a little reminder of how not alone I really am in the form of yellow stains that will not come out no matter what carpet cleaner I use.
From the Hardcover edition.
Best Books of the Year: NPR and San Francisco Chronicle
“Gideon has written a love song to family and to life. What a lovely song it is…. One of the happiest books to cross our paths in a very long time. Kind ... loving ... funny ... wise.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Hilarious…. A sinuous journey—complete with skids and scraped knees—toward greater engagement with life . . . treated with humor and heart.” —Christian Science Monitor
“After a few chapters of one gorgeous and self-ridiculing sentence after another, you realize that Gideon doesn’t need to detonate her life to shake things up. There’s a perfect storm raging inside her head, and its hilarity is drama enough for anyone.” —San Francisco Magazine
“A self-deprecating, wickedly funny and mildly philosophical reflection on marriage, mothering, middle age and the march toward life’s meaning.” —Bookpage
“An honest, funny tribute to the way love can survive waves of doubt, miscommunications and highly dubious purchases.” —Redbook
“Gideon explores her pain, doubt, regret, and confusion as a wife and mother at midlife with great poise and insight and, ultimately, a gentle aura of hope.” —Elle
“By the end of the book I felt like I had just spent several hours knocking back drinks with an especially funny friend. Which is some of my highest praise.” —Book Bench (newyorker.com)
“With self-effacing humor, Ms. Gideon chronicles the mundanity and small epiphanies of everyday life.” —New York Times
“Gideon’s a deceptively smooth writer; her memoir’s packed with insights that sneak up on you.” —San Diego Tribune
“There is nothing contrived, trite, or holier-than-thou in this crisply hilarious, candid, and affecting contemplation. Instead, Gideon’s self deprecating and wry insights into the mysteries of marriage, parenthood and the evolution of the self are astute, pragmatic, and generous, providing the perfect antidote to the everyday blues.” —Booklist
“ A hilariously probing account of personal growth and stasis. Epiphanies abound in Gideon’s account . . . refreshing and sassy, with more than a dash of tenderness thrown in.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In this marvelous memoir Ms. Gideon appears to be channeling everything I’ve ever felt, thought, feared, hoped about motherhood.” —Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother
“Like all the best books, The Slippery Year reminds us that we are not alone—not alone in our fears about our kids, not alone in our struggle to make meaning of our lives, and most definitely not alone in our volcanic rages about the car pool line. Melanie Gideon is a wonderful companion—smart, rueful and painfully funny. Truly the one thing wrong with this book is that it had to end.” —Allison Pearson, author of I Don't Know How She Does It
“Within hours of finishing The Slippery Year, I was raving to friends about its perfect balance of gorgeous writing, quirky wit, and lovable impertinences. I laughed and cried and saw myself in Melanie Gideon’s chronicle of maternal neuroses and wifely doubts. What a pleasure to find such a dear and funny book.” —Elinor Lipman, author of The Family Man and Then She Found Me
“Gideon has an utterly charming way of turning the constant compromises of married life into riotous poetic insight.” —Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock
1. What does the phrase "The Slippery Year" mean to you? To the author?
2. Reread the T. S. Eliot quote on page ix. Why do you think Gideon chose this particular quote? What does it signify?
3. In an interview with The New York Times, Gideon said, "In writing about nothing, I was writing about everything." What did she mean by that?
4. How does Gideon use humor in the book? How does it shape your opinion of her?
5. Why is Gideon so reluctant to spend time in her husband's van? Is there something more to it than comfort?
6. On page 30, Gideon writes, "There comes a time in every mother's life when it becomes very clear that your child is a much better person than you are." Have you ever had a moment like that?
7. Several times in the book, Gideon talks about her faulty memory. Why do you imagine she has such trouble remembering things, especially good things?
8. On page 45, Gideon writes, "I've come to realize a call to adventure really means a call to feel really bad about yourself and all your shortcomings." Do you agree? How does this fear affect Gideon's life? Does she overcome it?
9. Compare Gideon's relationship with her mother to her relationship with Ben. How is she like her mother and how is she different?
10. Reread the passage on page 79 that describes her mother's understanding of why she was born. How does Gideon herself feel about it? What is your take on it?
11. In what ways does being a twin shape Gideon's life and attitude? How is her relationship with her twin different from her relationship with her other sisters?
12. What does Gideon learn from her friend Renée, in the chapter about Pee Wee lacrosse?
13. On page 127, Gideon says, "I long for community, yet I shy away from intimacy." Why do you think she does this? By the end of the book, does she still feel the same way? In what ways has she changed?
14. How does the woman weeping in the car pool line affect Gideon? Why is the car pool line so important?
15. Given Gideon's overall attitude of fear, why does she drive Ben on a long car trip when the ophthalmologist had told her not to get behind the wheel?
16. What does Gideon learn from having to live with a scratched cornea?
17. Reread and discuss the passage on pages 208-209 in which Gideon describes her notion of home as a choice.
18. Why don’t they bury Bodhi in Maine?
19. In the end does Gideon discover her happily ever after? Is there such a thing as happily ever after? How about happily ever now?