Today I read The Slip by Mark Sampson.
It wasn’t that bad, was it? What I said. I mean, I got a little carried away, but everyone is making such a big deal out of it. My wife and my students and the university and the media, they’re all blowing things way out of proportion. I mean, it’s an extreme view, and I realize I was wrong to say it, but if you put it in the proper context of Western philosophical thought…wait, that’s what everyone is angry about? Shit, did I really say that?
This was another ARC I got at the last OLA Super Conference. My backlog of both to-read and to-review is, well, let’s say those categories are separate bookcases. Not shelves. This was definitely an interesting read, especially in light of our current culture of public apologies and shaming for misbehaviour. The protagonist, Dr. Philip Sharpe, is a politically centrist philosophy professor with a specialty in ethics. While appearing on a tv spot, he says something in a heated moment about a company that recently crumbled, that he thinks everyone is angry with him about. He genuinely thinks that everyone is badly overreacting, and he ignores all online comments and attempts by the people in his life to discuss what he said. It’s not until over 200 pages and six days later when his teenage stepdaughter sits him down, plays him the video, and forces him to face what he actually said. People are not angry with him because of an abstract legal and ethical point. They are angry because what he said sounded like a rape threat against the woman he was arguing with. He didn’t mean it that way, his opponent didn’t interpret it that way, but a lot of the public did hear it that way. Philip is a very defined character- 50’s, highly educated, white, technophobic, high-functioning alcoholic, and liberal but not at all woke. He’s a little racist and a lot sexist. His 14 years younger wife is a stay-at-home mom and a writer, with a monthly column and a few failed children’s books. He is very resentful of her not working and contributing financially to the household, while he doesn’t recognize or value the work she does do in the home. Everything she does to take care of their two daughters he refers to as “motherwork,” which is a particularly irritating term, especially when she’s doing something like tending to their 3 year old who just scalded herself on a broken faucet she has asked Philip to have fixed.
This isn’t my usual style, but I did enjoy it. Well, perhaps not enjoy, but I found it very interesting. I found Philip to be dislikeable on a personal level but understandable. He has basically never had a functioning relationship of any kind with a woman in his entire life- even his mother left when he was very small- and while he’s a sexist jerk, to a degree he really doesn’t know any better. Of course, I’m also reading this from a perspective of a woman several years his junior, which is definitely not a perspective he would have ever considered. Philip is a representation of a lot of middle-aged white men who say something horrific in public who need to have it explained to them exactly what they said and why it was wrong before they understand. It depends on your own perspective if he is just stupid for not knowing, or ignorant and in need of education. One is willful, and the other is something that can be corrected with effort. Philip, being conveniently fictional, is properly aghast and genuinely remorseful when he finally understands what he said, and the reader can hope that he will be a little more aware of his words and actions and his relationships with his family and friends in the future. Shame real life isn’t always so tidy.
It is a thoughtful book that could encourage a lot of discussion. This could be a great choice for a book club that enjoys debate.
And the thing that every Canadian will be able to relate to, no matter your age, gender, or political viewpoint, is Philip’s vain attempts to keep his poppy from getting lost multiple times. The struggle is real.