Lots of ladies these days seem to be waxing not exactly poetic about their lives as wives and mothers. Some of these so-called memoirs are dubious rants rather short on epiphany, but Melanie Gideon’s The Slippery Year doesn’t slide down that precarious slope. This self-deprecating, wickedly funny and mildly philosophical reflection on marriage, mothering, middle age and the march toward life’s meaning will ring true for midlife women—whether they are mothers or not—as well as for men of a certain age.
Gideon’s chronicle of her year, written as a series of monthly essays, sprang from her realization that she had been “sleepwalking” through her life. “This realization wasn’t precipitated by some traumatic event. I did not have cancer. My parents had not abused me. I was in a good marriage to a kind man. But something wasn’t right. I felt empty.”
Who am I? Is this all there is to life? Gideon has the privileges of time, writing talent and a comfy American lifestyle to explore these existential questions—an expedition that could comprise a dreary tale. The Slippery Year, however, pokes edgy fun at the boundaries and markers of a modern American woman’s middle-class life: conundrums over a small son’s Halloween costume woes and school carpool lines, along with angst over summer soccer camp, disastrous visits to the beauty salon, the death of a beloved pet, a spouse in love with his monster camper van and the ongoing search for—and compromise about—the perfect marital mattress.
As we follow Gideon through a year of months and seasons, her July reflection that “marriage changes passion. Suddenly you’re in bed with a relative” slowly morphs, after a short separation from her husband, into a renewed love and appreciation of the man she married 20 years before. The year ends with a peaceful family moment by the seashore, in which Gideon realizes she has come full circle and finally arrived home from her archeological inner journey: “Home—the ways in which we are bound to one another. Not by chance . . . but by choice.”
Alison Hood writes from the sometimes culturally slippery slopes of Marin County, California.