Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The World According to Tina

Before I start writing a review of Tina Sloan's book, Changing Shoes, let's get a couple of things out of the way:

1. I'm a life-long fan of soaps
2. Being a life-long fan of soaps, I've watched Tina Sloan and been a fan of hers since her days on 
3. Having interviewed Tina and interacted with her on a personal level, I find her to be a gracious, 
    charming,  lovely person.
4. None of these things would make me give a book a positive review if it didn't deserve it. Books play way
    too much of an important role in my life for me to take a dive, so to speak.

With that out of the way, let's get on to the subject at hand: Changing Shoes. For a year or so friends and fans of Tina Sloan have heard about the book she was working on. Some folks had the advantage of having seen the one-woman show the book is based on, and had an idea what was in store for them. I haven't caught Tina's show. All I knew about Changing Shoes was what Tina had told me when I interviewed her, and what she's shared about it on Facebook and Twitter. I wasn't really sure if I'd be reading a memoir, a self-help book, a tell-all expose'...or what. At various times during the past year, Tina has spoken about her aging parents, her days as a model and young actress, the changes that she has undergone as she's aged, her time on the set of movies and television shows, her relationships with family and friends...and she's talked about them in the context of Changing Shoes. For a while there I found myself thinking, "What in the world is this book going to be about? What can the narrative voice possibly be, if not schizophrenic?" As most of you know, the book was released last week and, if you're anything like me, you devoured it in record time.

Everyone has interesting things in their life. I mean it. Everyone. Every life is full of funny or sad or ironic stories, coincidences, accidents, tragedies, etc. For the most part, this doesn't amount to much. Having a good story and being able to tell a good story - these are two very different things. Tina Sloan not only has a treasure trove of good stories, she's one hell of a storyteller. In answer to my own question - "What can the narrative voice of Changing Shoes be...?" - reading Changing Shoes feels like meeting a good friend at a favorite coffee house, sitting down on a comfy couch, and asking her, "How on earth did you get from where you started to where you are today?"

The book opens with Tina coming to the realization that she's reached a stage in life where all eyes are no longer on her, but on the much younger woman next to her. From here, she takes the reader on a narrative journey through different parts of her life. We make brief stops at her Catholic high school in New York, Paris -where she comes into her own under the guidance of a wise and liberated woman with heaps of finesse, her early days as a model and actress in NYC, marriage, motherhood, career, the steady decline and eventual death of her parents, and a bunch of other places. I'd wondered if Changing Shoes would be a memoir, a self-help book, an expose'....the answer is, it's all of these things. I have to say, though, as an expose', it's very gentle. Long-time soap fans will have fun wondering/trying to figure out who it was that wore a baseball cap to hide the evidence of too many facelifts because, when it comes to this sort of stuff, Tina isn't naming names. This makes Tina's narrative voice more likable - she can tell a great story, but she's not out to smear anyone. Everyone likes a good storyteller, but nobody likes a bitch, and there's not a hint of bitchiness in Changing Shoes. If you're hoping to read the dirty secrets and scandals from behind the scenes at Guiding Light, this isn't the book for you. If, on the other hand, you're interested in how, during a time when most characters over 40 were being shoved asside, Tina not only managed to remain employed, but ended the run of GL with a front-and-center romance, you've come to the right place. You've come to the right place, too, if you want to hear the straight dope from a woman who hasn't had plastic surgery, doesn't plan to have plastic surgery, and isn't afraid to be honest about her age.

The section of Changing Shoes which deals with Tina's parents and their last years was something I found especially moving. It's an important story she tells, of having to cope with the mixed emotions that the failing health of a parent can bring. Most people are afraid to talk about how frustrating it can be to watch our parents get old, or how guilt drives a lot of what we do,when it comes to caring for them. Still fewer people are able to discuss the inevitable feeling of relief that comes when a person who has lived with prolonged illness finally dies. It's something we all experience, but it's something of a taboo. Having recently lost my mother, this section of the book was painful, but also a catharsis. While I miss my mother terribly, I've also experienced a sense of relief since she passed; no longer do I worry that every late-night phone call is THE phone call I've dreaded. Tina discusses this frankly - the fact that loving one's parents and being devoted to them does not make caring for them an absolute joy, and that the range of emotions that comes with this experience is not only natural, but universal.

Tina gets brownie points for managing to tell stories about her interaction with famous people without being a showoff. When she relates a story about Jodie Foster it doesn't feel as if she's bragging about having worked with a major movie star. Quite the opposite - it reminds us that Jodie Foster may be a movie star, but she's also just a woman...a woman Tina Sloan happened to have worked with, once. This, ultimately, is what makes Changing Shoes such an enjoyable read. It's not really about a soap star. It's Everywoman's story. The names and dates and specific details may be different, but the fundimental truths are the same: girls become women, young women become middle-aged women who become older women, parents live and die, kids grow up, people laugh, cry, complain, and make mistakes. It's how each of deals with these parts of life that matters.

I realize this may not be the most interesting book review, as I have nothing but good things to say about Changing Shoes. It's well written. It's touching. It's funny. It's juicy. It's full of homespun wisdom about things you never thought you'd hear homespun wisdom about. Tina Sloan will not tell you how to make a perfect pie crust, but she will give you tips on the best hormonal supplements to take if you want to kick up a sagging libido, but don't want to grow a moustache. You don't get that kind of advice every day.

No comments: