I’ve gone back and forth on this book. When I started writing this post I felt like there wasn’t really much to it, an intriguing plot and not much else. But now, coming back to it about a month later (and after having meditated this evening) I think there’s something more to it.
Lillian, a former gifted child now living a listless life in her hopeless hometown, gets a letter from her best friend Madison with a job offer. It doesn’t sound that appealing, but it’s got to be better than where she’s at right now. The relationship between Lillian and her (former?) best friend when they were teenagers and now years later is fascinating. They seem to get one another on a visceral level that revels in discomfort and imperfection, and even after Madison betrays Lillian in their youth this connection remains.
Madison hires Lillian to look after her stepchildren, who have the unfortunate habit of bursting into flames. While the book focuses on Lillian’s relationship with these children, it is clear that the relationship between Madison and Lillian remains just intense as it was when they were younger. I think it’s clear from the beginning that Lillian loves Madison, but to put their relationship into such simplistic terms almost diminishes it. They play basketball like it’s war (Madison elbows Lillian in the face), and Madison encourages Lillian to abuse her husband’s money and wealth. They never really speak about their past but it’s there in every moonlit conversation (yes, there are multiple conversations that take place outside in the moonlight). I appreciated that neither character was really softened by the children in their lives. Instead, Madison appreciates her son for his finickiness and his strangeness, and Lillian appreciates the children she takes care of for their rage and their wrongness. Maybe it’s the pandemic or the state of everything, but I really appreciate women not softening their weird edges.