There's a Word for That
Introducing the Kesslers: Marty, a retired LA film producer whose self-worth has been eroded by age and a late-in-life passion for opioids; his daughter Janine, former child star suffering the aftereffects of a life in the public eye; and granddaughter Hailey, the "less-than" twin sister, whose inferiority complex takes a most unexpected turn.
Nearly six thousand miles away, in London, celebrated author Bunny Small, Marty's long-forgotten first wife, has her own problems: a "preposterous" case of writer's block, a monstrous drinking habit, and a son who has fled halfway around the world to escape her.
When Marty's pill-popping gets out of hand and Bunny's boozing reaches crisis proportions, a perfect storm of dysfunction brings them all together at Directions, Malibu's most exclusive and absurd rehab center.
But for all their failings, the members of this estranged -- and strange -- family love each other. Rich with warmth, humor, and deep insight, There's a Word for That is a comic ode to surviving the people closest to us, navigating the perils of success, and taking one last look in the rearview mirror before mapping out the road ahead.
Praise For There's a Word for That…
"Hilarious and touching."—Wendy Goodman, New York Magazine
"Readers who miss The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg and the Lamberts from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections will welcome the Kesslers. With equal parts humor and empathy, There's a Word for That employs multiple narrators and a skillfully drawn cross-generational family to examine how relatives impact one another."—Tracy Babiasz, Booklist
"Often uproariously funny. Tanen's skill is that you don't laugh at the characters. They know how messed up they are. All you, and they, can do is laugh at the straits they find themselves in and soldier on."—Arlene McKanic, BookPage
"A big juicy beach read full of family dysfunction and Southern California sunshine, There's a Word for That joyously knits together the most frayed characters into a story you won't want to put down, even after the last page. Sloane Tanen is a witty, wonderful writer who really knows how to twist a plot as she redefines what it means to have a happy ending."—Amy Scheibe, author of A Fireproof Home for the Bride
"Full of intelligence and charm...Though Tanten's delightful sense of humor infuses the plot and dialogue with sparkle..., along with the farcical situations come moments of real emotion and insight...As the characters weather tough times and deal with hurts old and new, love and humor light the way."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Tanen's memorable wry humor and sharp dialogue will leave readers fully invested in the rebuilding of relationships despite years of distance, trauma and pain. Tanen's refreshing tale of a nontraditional family legacy will appeal to fans of tightly plotted dramas in the vein of Maggie Shipstead's work."—Publishers Weekly
"A joy. This is the novel for anyone who has ever had family. Oh, wait---that means everyone. Sloane Tanen deliciously skewers us all while she romps through the connections we make and trample in our attempt to stay related to one another. Hilarious, wondrous, and fun."—Marion Roach Smith, author of The Memoir Project
"A high-stakes, hilarious novel thatshows us how, with time, even the most intractable relationships can soften and surprise us. Sloane Tanen has a sharp eye for irony and wields an even sharper pen. I laughed loudly, and often."—Lucy Tan, author of What We Were Promised
"That rare mix of funny and gutting, a page-turner coupled with deep emotional resonance. The characters are so richly drawn and their journeys so absorbing that by the end of the book, it felt a real loss to let them go. A funny, moving, gem of a novel."—Melanie Abrams, author of Playing
Little, Brown and Company, 9780316437165, 384pp.
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Do you think Marty is to blame for what happened to Janine or was he just trying to protect her? She feels that he didn’t hold her to a high enough standard and so she accomplished nothing with her life. Is unconditional love a good thing? In what ways do parents damage their children by loving them too much? Did you think that Janine being supported by her father made her unsympathetic?
2. Many of the characters undergo transformations in the novel, none so obviously as Hailey. The fleeting nature of both beauty and fame are important themes in There’s A Word For That. In what ways does Hailey’s physical transformation speak to the larger ideas in the novel?
3. What did you make of Janine’s relationship with Amanda? Which of the girls’ narratives felt more authentic? Did you feel sympathy for Amanda’s version of their history—or with Janine’s? In what ways do we all cling to our own stories, never really bothering to see the past from our siblings’ perspective?
4. There’s A Word For That is told from multiple points of view. How does this technique influence where your sympathies lie when reading the novel? Which character do you think is the novel’s main protagonist? Why?
5. Is Marty’s drug use understandable, relatable? Given the current opioid epidemic, were you surprised that someone as old and successful as Marty would be addicted to drugs?
6. The novel deals with different ideas of womanhood at different stages of life. Strong, independent women (Bunny), misguided women who rely on men (Pamela and Janine), confused women who feel victimized (Amanda) and girls trying to figure it all out (Hailey). Which character did you relate to most and why?
7. This book is very much about ageing and the fall from grace, both public and private. What do you think Janine means by the following: “There was nothing like visiting her father in rehab to illuminate how far he’d fallen in the world. Every stint in rehab, Janine knew, confirmed Marty’s fear that he was no longer essential, that in getting old, he’d become useless.”
8. Did you find Janine’s attitude towards her mother’s suicide disturbing? Was her insouciance a defense mechanism or a true remove? How do you think Pamela’s suicide affected the family? In what ways might their lives have been different had she failed in her attempt?
9. Narcissistic parents run amuck in the novel. Is Henry’s attitude towards Bunny at the beginning of the book justified? Does he have a right to be angry with her?
10. In what ways did the book make you think about celebrity? Tanen seems less interested in the high of fame than in its lingering side-effects. Do you think it’s possible to live a “normal” life in the spotlight? Can you think of anyone who has aged out of celebrity with grace?
11. What was your favorite German word and why? Do you know any other foreign words that capture something that cannot be defined in English?