Life can turn weird when you change paradigms, especially when a child enters the picture. Melanie Gideon’s very funny memoir, The Slippery Year, chronicles one woman’s adjustment to marriage, motherhood, and the strange discontinuities of our contemporary life. Set in the Bay Area, her book is about strange territory in a familiar location.
MEH: Did you always know you are a funny writer? Are you also funny in person, or does it happen on the page?
MG: No! Being able to write funny was a complete surprise to me. Previous to writing The Slippery Year I wrote two YA books, both of them very dark fantasy novels. So different in tone you would never know the same author wrote all three books. I think this funny voice was always in me, but dormant. I also think I had to wait until I was in my forties to be able to access this voice because it wasn’t until then that I was able to laugh and poke fun at myself. Unfortunately I am much funnier on the page then in real life, but I’m working on remedying that!
MEH: Your book title, The Slippery Year, so deftly captures the sense of dislocation a new(ish) mother can have, straddling former and current identities. Does the world still make it hard for women to stay at home with small children? When you are a mother are you still more or less a nobody?
MG: Well, the world sure doesn’t make it easy for mothers to stay at home with their children. We are expected to do it all and have it all and that’s just not possible. I’m with Barbara Walters on this one. You can have it all, just not all at the same time. And no, I’ve never felt that I was a nobody as a mother. Invisible at times, yes, but raising my son is without a doubt the best, most important, most beloved job I have. Nothing else brings me greater joy. Of course he’s about to be a teenager. Ask me again in a few years.
MEH: Related to that question, one of your most resonant set pieces in the book involves a book signing, several prominent authors, and you, struggling to maintain your dignity. The writer’s identity is in many ways as permeable and evanescent as a mother’s – unless you’re famous. Have you settled into a firmer writer’s identity?
MG: Um—no. What I’ve realized after writing four books is that it’s my job to keep myself permeable and when you live in this porous state it’s at times, painful. There’s always going to be somebody more famous than you, more successful, getting more press, etc. I try and stay focused on the creation part of my job. It’s where I’m the happiest. Once a book goes off into the world I imagine it’s a boat. The worst thing I can do is jump in the water and swim after it—it’s got its own destiny and it will sink or swim, (or dog paddle, in most cases). The best I can do is wish it well and yell goodbye and good luck and watch out for all the sharks.
MEH: There is a delicate dance in this book, between your husband and yourself. Part of the shifting sense of priorities and goals you limn inevitably involves rejiggering the marriage relationship. Would you describe yourself as more settled now, into re-established roles with each other?
MG: Writing The Slippery Year, which really is a memoir about marriage, was a risky undertaking. I hoped it would bring us closer, but I wasn’t sure. My husband was a good sport about the whole thing and honestly why wouldn’t he be—most people who read the book fell in love with him—he’s a wonderful man, brave, funny, and patient. I wrote The Slippery Year in hopes I could write myself back into my life. And I’m happy to report I did.
MEH: Your book approaches the small things of life up close, then gingerly pulls back to reveal something pretty big, the texture of our lives. Any thoughts about that?
MG: I discovered that I could get to the meaty stuff by backing up into it. The Slippery Year isn’t a typical tell-all memoir mostly because I don’t believe in telling it all. It’s more of a tell-some memoir by which I mean I traffic in some seemingly benign subject matter like how slowly people shop at Trader Joe’s and just how annoying that is which brings me around to a more meaningful realization like we’re only allotted a number of perfect minutes where everything thing is as it should be and the thing I’m most afraid of it that those minutes are running out. In writing this book I found out that pretty much everything, from scrambled eggs to overdue library books, to forcing your son to wear your Halloween costume from college because you’re too lazy to run out to Target on a Tuesday night to buy him a new one can be squeezed and a deeper truth extracted.
MEH: What are you working on now?
MG: I’m working on a novel called Wife 22. I’m having such fun writing it. It’s similar in voice and themes to The Slippery Year.