CBR11 Listicles: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Goodreads Top 20 Books of 2016
I am doing a terrible job planning my Bingo scorecard. I had a much clearer plan of attack last year but am mostly playing it by ear this year. Luckily I was able to stumble into a square with a reread of Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty since it appeared on Goodreads Top. After reading Nine Perfect Strangers and being… underwhelmed… I decided to read something else by Liane Moriarty and decided on Truly Madly Guilty because it gets less play than Big Little Lies.
Something happened at the last minute barbecue Vid and Tiffany threw that neighbors Erika and Oliver along with Erika’s best friend Clementine, her husband Sam and their two little girls attended. Whatever happened has drastically altered the relationship between Erika and Clementine, strained the marriage of Clementine and Sam as well as disintegrated the fledgling friendship that had been forming between Vid, Tiffany and the others. The reader doesn’t know what happened at first being treated primarily to the aftermath of the event through the eyes of all six adults and only getting snippets of action from The Day of The Barbecue.
“There is no special protection when you cross that invisible line from your ordinary life to that parallel world where tragedies happen. It happens just like this. You don’t become someone else. You’re still exactly the same. Everything around you still smells and looks and feels exactly the same.”
On top of “the incident at the barbecue” there are a variety of other stressers in our main characters’ lives. Affecting everyone is the never ending rain Sydney has been experiencing since the barbecue but there is also Erika and Oliver’s invasive request of Clementine as well as Erika’s mother’s hoarding getting worse. Cellist Clemetine’s big audition is coming up but she feels like she is going slighltly insane since she can never find anything in her house. Dakota, Tiffany and Vid’s daughter, went from a voracious book reader to a withdrawn preteen overnight; on top of this she is about to start at a new school where someone from Tiffany’s sordid past is also a parent.
I still think Big Little Lies became Moriarty’s breakout hit for a reason, it has the best mystery and most solidly formed characters but Truly Madly Guilty was an admirable follow up and light years better than Nine Perfect Strangers. Unfortunately I only partially remembered the plot of TMG and the “incident at the barbecue” was probably not the ideal book to read while pregnant.
But then I read Do Not Become Alarmed and doubled down on my inappropriate gestational reading material…
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
I was scrolling through Overdrive and saw Do Not Become Alarmed had a back cover blurb of praise from Anne Patchett, whose novels I enjoy, so downloaded it without really reading the synopsis. To be honest, I probably would have read it anyway, because I don’t think things through, but the plot essentially follows the abduction of five children who drift away in a crocodile infested river while on an excursion during a two week cruise.
Liv and Nora are cousins who are more like sisters or best friends. After Nora’s mother passes away the women decide to spend the holidays on a decadent cruise with their husbands and young children. Liv and Benjamin have the 11 year old bossy and precocious Penny as well as her younger brother Type 1 Diabetic Sebastian while Nora and movie star husband, Raymond, are parents to the 11 year old Marcus, who may be on the spectrum, and younger sister June. On the boat they meet a glamorous Argentinian couple with two older children, a thirteen year old girl named Isabella and her older brother Hector. About a week into the cruise the families decide to get off the boat at the next stop, Ecuador I think, where the men will go golfing and the women will take the kids zip-lining. Unfortunately the car breaks down on the way to the zip-line so the tour guide suggests going for a swim while they wait for someone to pick them up. Nora, who has unabashedly flirting with the guide all afternoon, goes off into the woods with him while the other two women sip drinks on the beach while the kids float on the river. Things go awry and no one notices the kids have drifted away.
“Civilization, her mother had told her since she was small, was a series of agreements about what was good for everyone, enforced by law. And civilization was only a thin veneer over the savagery and greed that were the human default.”
The kids stumble across a cartel member dumping a body and get kidnapped while their parents throw blame at one another for losing them in the first place. While I am immensely sympathetic to the kids’ plight as kidnapped children in a third world country they were some of the most annoying children I’ve spent time with in a novel. I’m not saying I didn’t want them to make it back home, I’m just saying I wanted to throttle a few of them.
You also get the parents’ point of view and there is a lot of blame thrown around as well as pure parental fear as they navigate the bureaucracy of a foreign country on top of the panic of not knowing where their children are. Nora is immensely unlikable, she does little to redeem herself following the tour guide incident, but by allowing Nora to be awful Meloy creates well rounded people and not just caricatures of victims’ parents.