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Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

Book review: The Slippage by Ben Greenman

After a casual start, the humorist and New Yorker writer ratchets up the suspense in this novel of suburban angst.


By Ben Greenman. Perennial, $15.

William Day lives in the routine suburban world of his-and-her cars, an uninspiring job writing sales brochures, and a growing, if unspoken, distance between himself and his wife. Such is the overarching metaphor of “slippage” in Ben Greenman’s new novel. The cure, at least as William’s wife sees it, is to build a new house on an acre of land across town: a foundation on which to start fresh. William is both skeptical and dismissive. Though an insightful man, he expresses a baffling indifference in the face of confrontation and leans on a crutch of irony. Only as his aggravation compounds at both home and work does he admit to himself that if he could “make even the smallest part of the world right again, the effect might spread.”

As with Greenman’s previous work, The Slippage showcases the author’s talent for funny and incisive dialogue, and for creating a cast of intriguing characters. The most prominent is William’s brother-in-law, Tom, a womanizing, frequently drunken artist who draws giant, whimsically philosophical bar graphs, and who offers William both support and a surprising perspective. 

For a while the novel moves at a casual pace, but Greenman ratchets up the suspense by folding in an increasing number of subplots, from William’s escalating troubles at work to his casual affair that becomes a risky obsession. From a quiet portrait of domestic unhappiness, the novel evolves into a provocative page-turner. But does William evolve? His marriage achieves only a tentative peace, and Greenman seems to suggest that coping with slippage is less about embracing the future than simply putting your troubles behind you.

Ben Greenman reads Mon 6 at Franklin Park.

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