Big Little Lies - 2015 Reading Challenge
I saw someone review this novel on Goodreads as "the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I'll ever read." Quite a hook, if you ask me, but dead-on accurate. Liane Moriarty is no stranger to the New York Times Bestseller list, but like many bestsellers, I had yet to read her before I picked up Big Little Lies.
For the record, I hate that there's a category on this Reading Challenge list that requires a book by a female author, as if having that there is the only way I would read a book by a female author this year. Still, unfortunately, I can't boycott the category because it's actually the only remaining one Big Little Lies fits into that I haven't checked off yet, but I still wanted to make my opinion known on that.
Big Little Lies is smart, funny, clever, and suspenseful. I would never have thought I would be so gripped by murder mystery suspense in a book that I would otherwise have classified as women's fiction. I honestly don't even know how to classify or slot Moriarty's novel into a genre. It's suspenseful without being a thriller, mysterious without being a mystery, and romantic without being a romance. Go figure.
But still, the writing. The story. The characters. I'm in love with all of them.
Allow me to summarize as best I can a book that revolves around the lives of so many characters. Big Little Lies is set on the gorgeous Pirriwee Peninsula, a beautiful fictional town close to Sydney, Australia. On the way to her daughter's kindergarten orientation, Madeline pulls over to yell at some teens in the car in front of her for texting and driving, and rolls her ankle in the process. Rescued by new mom Jane, who's also on her way to the orientation, the two become fast friends and the dynamically excitable Madeline decides to take Jane under her wing and show her the ropes of being a Pirriwee Parent.
In the midst of all this, the reader knows there has been a murder at the school. Big Little Lies weaves in and out of the past seamlessly, with most of the story being told before a fateful Trivia Night where we know (from the beginning of the book) a parent has been killed. The lead-up to this is the bulk of the novel, with snippets of the journalist's interview following the murder being included throughout to tantalize us and make us die to find out more.
Moriarty's observations on life from the perspectives of lower-, middle-, and upper-class characters alike are stunning. The story couldn't have happened without Jane. Jane moved to the beach with her five-year-old son Ziggy, and an incident at school for which he gets blamed puts her instantly on the 'bad parent' list by several of the other school moms and dads. Her life isn't perfect, but this is where she wants to be. Living on the oceanside, where she would never have thought she could afford to be as a single mom who earns her salary as a freelance bookkeeper.
As she looks out at the ocean, she thinks:
She could...buy a takeaway coffee and then take an arty photo of it sitting on the fence post with the sea in the background and post it on Facebook with the comment, "Work break! How lucky am I?" People would write, "Jealous!"
If she packaged the perfect Facebook life, maybe she would start to believe it herself.
Big Little Lies largely explores the hyper intensity of modern-day parenting. If your children are considered 'gifted', that adds more stress to your life because you're constantly having to make sure they're stimulated. If they aren't 'gifted', that adds stress to your life because you feel like your kids are in competition with the other kids to get the teacher's attention. If your kids get hurt and you do nothing about it, you're negligent. If they get hurt and you start chewing people out over it, you're over-protective.
It's a crazy world we live in, and Moriarty nails that craziness with glee. The modern family, the broken family, the corporate mom and stay-at-home dad family -- she gets them all. Rich, poor, loving, hateful, high achievers, low aim-ers, shallow and self-obsessed, enigmatic and broken -- there isn't a dull person in this novel. We get to know characters through the tiny paragraphs of the journalist's interview in a way I've never gotten to know side characters before. Let me give you an example:
Thea: I heard Jane had a quote, unquote, 'fling' with one of the fathers. I've no idea which one. Except I know it wasn't my husband!
Bonnie: She did not.
Melissa: Didn't Jane have an affair with the stay-at-home dad?
Gabrielle: It wasn't Jane who had the affair! I always thought she was born-again. Flat shoes, no jewellery, no make-up. But good body! Not an ounce of fat. She was the skinniest mother in the school. God, I'm hungry. Have you tried the 5:2 diet? This is my fast day. I am dying of starvation.
Honestly, this book is just a delight to read. Writers are known for being highly observant folk, but I think Moriarty has something special in the way she sees the world. There is something so profoundly truthful about the way she writes that I think you'd be missing out if you didn't pick up one of her books. May I suggest Big Little Lies?