Aquarius/Let the Sunshine

I stayed up late last night reading, and as such slept through my morning. When I got home from running errands yesterday I couldn’t find my copy of Peaches and Scream, which meant I either left it somewhere yesterday (the horror! It was signed) or I left it in the car–which I will check shortly–but while I was cleaning and doing laundry and all of that yesterday, I decided not to walk back out to the car but to just pick up another book–the next on the TBR pile–and I got very caught up in it, caught up so much that I wanted to see how it ended.

The book was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

“That doesn’t sound like a school trivia night,” said Mrs. Patty Ponder to Marie Antoinette. “That sounds like a riot.”

The cat didn’t respond. She was dozing on the couch and found school trivia nights to be trivial.

“Not interested, eh? Let them eat cake! Is that what you’re thinking? They do eat a lot of cake, don’t they? All those cake stalls. Goodness me. Although I don’t think any of the mothers actually eat them. They’re all so sleek and skinny, aren’t they? Like you.”

Marie Antoinette sneered at the compliment. The “let them eat cake” thing had grown old a long time ago, and she’d recently heard one of Mrs. Ponder’s grandchildren say it was mean to be “let them eat brioche” and also that Marie Antoinette never said it in the first place.

Mrs. Ponder picked up her television remote and turned down the volume on Dancing with the Stars. She’d turned it up loud earlier because of the sound of the heavy rain, but the downpour had eased now.

She could hear people shouting. Angry hollers crashed through the quiet, cold night air. It was somehow hurtful for Mrs. Ponder to hear, as if all that rage was directed at her. (Mrs. Ponder had grown up with an angry mother.)

I’ll be completely honest: I would have never heard of this book were it not for the HBO show, which Paul and I are watching. I primarily focus, when it comes to fiction, first on crime novels, followed by young adult, then horror, and finally queer fiction; as my reading time is relatively limited I can barely keep up with what’s au courant in crime, let alone anything else. Liane Moriarty, an enormously successful Australian novelist, is classified as chick lit, a term I’ve always found to be, at the very least, demeaning–not just to those who write it but to those who read it.

And there are a LOT of readers in this particular field.

The primary problems–which I will address now, before moving on to the things I really enjoyed–I had with this novel really are all about me, rather than the book itself. As someone who writes crime fiction, and therefore reads a lot of it, has edited a lot of it, has judged it for awards, Big Little Lies actually can be considered a crime novel, particularly if you look at the definition of the genre from Mystery Writers of America; because the book is about a crime, in a way; and the way the book is structured is a very much a crime trope: from the very beginning we know some kind of crime has happened, but we don’t know who or what or how. The book unspools by giving us all the backstory leading up to the commission of the crime, exposing all the secrets and lies involving a trio of three women, connected by having a child in kindergarten at one particular school, and then it gives us the crime itself, and it’s aftermath. There’s kind of a Greek chorus of voices at the end of each chapter, snippets from police or newspaper interviews, from various other characters but not the main ones, and Moriarty uses this device to not only build suspense but keep the reader hooked and intrigued and turning the page. The problem, of course, is that if you are a regular reader of crime fiction, many of the big surprises and twists to the plot…well, they aren’t shocking and surprising; in fact, I predicted every single one of them many chapters before the reveals. But I didn’t know who the victim would be, or how it would happen, or who would actually do it; Moriarty does an excellent job of juggling all the little threads and making you guess how it would all come down when you finally reach the climax of the novel, which kept me turning the page.

Those quibbles aside, Big Little Lies is compulsively readable. Moriarty does an excellent job of creating characters the reader can not only identify with but sympathize with, and there is also a lot of wit and sly social commentary in the book as well. As I mentioned earlier, the three main characters–Jane, Celeste, Madeline–are all connected by having a child in kindergarten. On the morning of kindergarten orientation, Madeline gets out of her car to lecture the teenaged driver of the car in front of her at a stoplight about texting and driving, only to turn her ankle on her way back to her car. Jane, new to the area, is in the car behind her and gets out to help her, and a friendship is born. Celeste is eventually drawn into their orbit, and we get to know these three women very well–as well as their secrets. Celeste is filthy rich, Celeste middle class, Jane borderline poor; Moriarty does an excellent job of showing the contrasts in their lifestyles as well as how those differences affect their behavior as well as their relationships. She also does an excellent job at showing the sensitivities and competitiveness between the moms who stay at home and the moms who work; Moriarty takes us into the world of women as mothers of young children and is very sly about the modern world of the helicopter parent; particularly on that first day of kindergarten orientation, when one of the children has been bullied and accuses Jane’s son of doing it, and how that accusation splits the school into two warring factions; of what it’s like to have your child accused of something heinous and the worry that comes along with that; the fierce desire to protect your child even if it means calling another child a liar; the terror that there is something psychologically wrong with your child. Moriarty is excellent at this; this women are incredibly real and fully developed and realized. She also writes with wit and flair and clever use of language; she has an innate ability to hook her reader and keep them reading.

It’s easy to see why she is an international bestseller.

I can highly recommend the book, despite the slight problems I had with it; it’s a great, enjoyable ride, and like I said to begin with, I stayed up until almost two in the morning reading it, and the first thing I did when I got up this morning, rather than messing about on-line and answering emails and reading social media, was get my cup of coffee and get back in my easy chair to finish reading it.

And that says a lot about Liane Moriarty as a writer. I do intend to read more of her work.

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