Written by: Liane Moriarty
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Summary: The story follows three women, each at a crossroads. Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, Celeste and her husband are looking set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. Single mom Jane, new to town, is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
“When someone you loved was depending on your lie, it was perfectly easy.”
Review: I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I was going to. I’ve been seeing it on bestsellers lists and shelves for a while now, as well as in the hands of many middle-aged white women I can only assume belong to a respectable book club in their respective suburbs. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up; I didn’t think the story within was anything that would hold my attention… until HBO announced they’d be making a TV series out of it featuring Reese Witherspoon, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley. Then, I practically raced to my nearest library and picked up the first copy of the book I saw, daunted only slightly by the size of it as I was still concerned that the book was going to be relatively uneventful and boring. To me, at first thought, it seemed to only be a book about mothers with young children first entering school and getting into petty drama – but it is so much more than that.
Among the petty tales of mothers with young children playing school politics, Moriarty is able to touch on some very difficult topics without going too far overboard in how dramatic or tragic they were – and that’s a thin line to not cross, so I was impressed. She touches on both sexual and domestic abuse, so if that triggers you, take that as a warning. However, she does so in such a way that it emphasizes how, unfortunately, normal this is in society: a young woman taken advantage of at a bar, another in love with a man with mental issues and dark needs, the psychological effects of children in a household where screams echo through the halls. This darkness is an equal opportunity player, Moriarty reminds us; although it is far more prevalent in impoverished areas with broken homes and more stressors, it has place in homes and mansions and shacks and apartments all across the world. But the book isn’t about these subjects alone, and that allows for some relief from the darkness for the reader. Moriarty perfectly juxtaposes these tragic scenes with ones from day-to-day life that show why those who are abused don’t report it, push it down, and convince themselves that it will be better or different next time – and that’s a vital lesson to learn for those who still don’t understand why victims return to their abusers.
Although Moriarty is by no means one of the top writers of this generation, she does have a talent for storytelling. She is able to create scenes that jump right from the pages, so that you see the cafe and the playground of the school and Celeste’s mansion and Jane’s small apartment right among the words in the pages, along with the characters who inhabit them. Her dialogue-filled tale allowed for me to move right along in reading, surprising even myself with how quickly I made it through the book. Although some readers didn’t like the petty drama among the mothers, I thought it provided some realistic humor and drama for the characters. I am a 21-year-old girl with little to no experience with children (I don’t have any younger siblings or cousins, even), but a lot of these stories had my maternal drive kicking into high gear – so I can only imagine how the actual mothers in the story felt, and it provided a proper backdrop for the rest of the heavy weight of the story. Ultimately, the only reason that the book failed to get 5 / 5 stars from me is that it wasn’t anything overwhelmingly creative, and as much as I wanted to get attached to Madeline’s portion of the story, I really failed to especially when comparing her problems to Jane’s and Celeste’s.
While there’s many incredible characters in this novel that Moriarty does an exemplary job of describing so that they jump from the pages, there are three main characters throughout the novel: Madeline, Jane, and Celeste. Madeline reminds me exactly of one of my mother’s friends, the kind of woman who turns into a mama bear the first time she meets anybody, building you up to strangers and defending you when push comes to shove. She’s incredibly loyal and hilarious, saying what I’m sure everyone else wants to say but doesn’t have the guts to, and I imagine I’d be good friends with her in real life. Jane, who pretty much is the main character in my eyes, is relatively flat in writing, but a devoted mother who will do anything and everything to protect her son, so I can get along with that. However, it is the complexity of Celeste that really profiles Moriarty’s ability to make her characters so simply real. Although I initially felt annoyance at Moriarty’s inclusion of the fact that Celeste was rich, I suddenly realized that’s the point; as she mentions in the book, ugly things can happen to even the most beautiful of people. Celeste’s raw fight for independence and freedom is what had me ripping through the pages more than Jane’s drama with Ziggy and her past, or Madeline’s drama with her ex-husband’s new fiancee. Her story taking a place at the front at the end of book really punches home the message: that this story was Celeste’s all along.
Ultimately, Big Little Lies really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it, and how much I’d like to recommend it to others when I get the chance. It visits a subject very near and dear to me, as well as one that I’ve thankfully had no experience with but am very passionate about awareness for. As a story that is commonly seen on the front lines in bookstores and will now be on HBO, I think it’s an important tale to tell – a digestible form of awareness for an issue that I feel a lot of people belittle or don’t think twice about fighting if it doesn’t affect them directly. I’ve still yet to watch the TV show, although it’s definitely high up on my list of what to watch next, and I can only hope that it carries some of the same weight the book did. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to pick up some of Moriarty’s other stories; I think I’ll grab The Husband’s Secret soon.