I think this is my fourth book by Liane Moriarty. I started with Big Little Lies, which I loved. It was one of my favorite books of the year. I was really looking forward to readingTruly Madly Guilty (2016), and I was very excited when I was finally able to get my hands on a copy. There were many things that I really liked about this book: I continue to be impressed with Moriarty’s characters and lives. However, her concept was frustrating and is beginning to feel repetitive.
The story centers around three couples. Two of the women have been “best friends” since childhood, although their relationship is much more complex than the simple label would suggest. The small power plays and slights that often occur in their interactions stem primarily from dynamics formed in childhood. Clementine is a cellist. She is married to Sam, and they have two young girls. From the outside, they appear to have a perfect life. Erika had a much more difficult childhood and used Clementine’s family as something of an escape. She is married to Oliver, a man with a troubled enough past of his own to truly understand Erika.
All we know at the beginning of the book is that an important “incident” occurred at a barbecue. It was something dramatic because it seemed to affect all of the characters that were there, and they’re having a hard time forgetting about it. The book begins about six weeks or so after the barbecue and switches between events leading up to the barbecue and present time as we get to know what is going on with the characters.
Over halfway through the book, we finally get to the barbecue and find out what happens. When Erika and Oliver invite Clementine and her family over for an afternoon, they end up at the extravagant home next door owned by Vid and Tiffany–for a barbecue.
The biggest problem I had with this book is that I felt like Moriarty was not playing fair in telling this story, and I got frustrated. In order to not give us too good of an idea of what had occurred at the barbecue, Moriarty had to tweak things pretty hard. How many conversations can the characters have about the “incident” without just saying what happened? Also, ***possible spoiler*** as soon as the reader finally finds out what happens, the characters start calling it an “accident” instead of an “incident” which makes much more sense. Also, she started so many chapters with a teasing line: a character screamed, etc. that made you think you might have finally gotten to the “incident,” but, no, there was just more backstory. ***end possible spoiler***
I cared about the characters, and I was interested in their lives, so when I thought I might have guessed what was coming, I was concerned and I was irritated by her playing around with me. Moriarty has used this technique in all of the books I’ve read by her, and it has never bothered me to this degree. I’m not sure if I’m just getting tired of it, or if the way she told the story, her plot was too reliant on this device. I sometimes wished Moriarty had told the story with a straight timeline and I wonder how that would have worked. Her characters are definitely well-defined and complex. Would it work, for the most part, without the built in tension?
Despite my frustration with some of the storytelling, this was an undeniably interesting read. The characters, their motivations, and their reactions are all deftly and believably written. I will be reading more of Moriarty’s books, but I wish she would play straight with her readers.
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