Christos Tsiolkas is gay, Australian, 44 years old. As far as I know, he has no children but his most recent novel, The Slap (Tuskar Rock), is the most profound book I have read in years on the indignities and satisfactions of family life. It is a rollicking tale filled with wisdom, told from the various perspectives of a wife-beating entrepreneur, an unmarried soap opera writer, a hippie mum, a Greek immigrant grandfather, a just-out-of-the-closet gay boy, a middle-aged married lothario, the teenage girl who loves him, and his beautiful, successful wife.
It opens at a barbeque in suburban Melbourne. Handsome Hector loves his wife, loves his life, but is in the midst of a passionate if as yet unconsummated affair with the 18-year-old receptionist at his wife’s veterinary practice. So far, this isn’t a problem. The party, filled with old friends and relatives, is going well. The only fly in the ointment is Hugo, an obnoxious three-year-old, utterly spoiled by his alcoholic dad and earth-mother mum. When called out in a cricket game, Hugo pouts, screams, and threatens the older kids with a bat. One of the fathers reacts, grabs him, rips the bat from his hand, slaps his face. The child howls, shocked although not really hurt. His horrified parents, however, press assault charges on the other dad. The novel explores the reverberations of the slap.