I started seeing a lot of reviews for Big Little Lies (2014) by Liane Moriarty on Cannonball, so I jumped on the bandwagon before I could get too far behind. Of course, I am behind because tons of people have already read it, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable for me. I picked up Big Little Lies with practically no knowledge of the narrative and only a hopeful feeling that others had recommended it. The premise of the book is that a parent–it is not clear who–was murdered on Trivia Night at the local school. The book builds up to that fateful night as it dissects the many relationships, problems, and grudges that could have led to such a thing.
We begin in an Australian suburb in a beautiful seaside town and focus on three mothers of children in the local Kindergarten class. Jane is a single mother, new to the area and visibly battling some demons. She barely eats, constantly chews gum, and has low self esteem. Celeste is perfectly beautiful and married to the perfectly beautiful and incredibly rich, Perry. She is the mother of two rambunctious but adorable twin boys. But she does not fit the stereotype of rich socialite mother, caring little about her appearance and often uncomfortable with her wealth. Like almost everyone in this town, there is much more going on in her life than what we first see. Finally, Madeline is happily married and the mother of three children, the youngest of which is in the kindergarten class. Madeline is the kind of person who could easily be really annoying. She is loud, opinionated, and loves confrontation. Yet she is also smart, loyal, and protective. Madeline immediately takes Jane under her wing, and it is a visceral relief when Madeline stands up for her when she can’t stand up for herself. I loved Madeline.
When Jane’s son, Ziggy, is accused of bullying behavior, the suburban drama ratchets up a notch as hysterical parents rely on rumor and prejudice to guide their actions. On the surface, this book may seem merely like women bickering over inconsequential issues, but I was surprised that I cared so much about their day-to-day lives. I never thought a fictional, lost stuffed hippo would stress me out so much.
The unique presentation of this story and humorous and sarcastic portrayal of its characters often reminded me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? But more than anything, this book reminded me of Jane Austen. Even though the story is exaggerated, there is an underlying truth to her characters and their feelings. It reminded her of trying to be friends with an ex-boyfriend. That studied casualness of your interactions. The fragility of your feelings, the awareness that the little quirks of your personality were no longer so adorable; they might even be just plain annoying. Moriarty has a gift for creating real and memorable characters. It really says something that I was able to remember the names of all of the major characters in this book without looking them up. Usually, I don’t even remember the protagonists’ names, but I felt like I knew these people.
I will definitely be reading more of Moriarty.
***SPOILERS***–Seriously, don’t read this if you haven’t read the book.
One of the themes of this book is of men doing shitty things to women, especially violence against women. You have the wife beater and mean rapist, the guy who leaves his wife and infant child, the many fathers who cheated on their spouses with the French nanny, and Bonny’s abusive father. It is when the women begin to talk about what they’re going through that they realize how it’s affecting everyone and start to heal.
Fortunately, not all the guys are bad. Madeline’s husband Ed is pretty cool. And Tom, of course. And even the bad guy is three dimensional, not just a demon. In addition, Nathan may have left his wife and infant child, but he regrets it now and is much more involved with his now teenage daughter and new family.
I spent a lot of this book trying to figure out who was going to die. I was almost immediately pretty attached to Jane, Celeste, and Madeline, and I was afraid it was going to be one of them. I did figure out pretty fast that one of the twins was the bully. I’m not sure if it was obvious or because I used to volunteer at a women’s shelter. I also figured that Tom wasn’t gay when he forced Harper (the most annoying character in the world) and her husband out of the coffee shop. He was just a little too passionate about Jane, and I was hopeful for her. Anyway, I thought Celeste was going to die. Although it turned out much better than I expected, it’s the only part of the book that didn’t feel quite real to me.
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