I absolutely devoured this book. I brought it with me on vacation to Mexico, and it didn’t last nearly long enough. I picked this book up without really knowing anything about the plot. I thought it was a typical suburban-middle-age-lady drama book. You know the type: most of the drama is centered around affairs you see coming a mile away or a house party that was socially disastrous. The only reason I got it was because I had heard about the HBO miniseries they were making (who can resist Reese Witherspoon?). While that’s probably a bad reason to buy a book, it definitely paid off.
One of the surprises about this book was the fact that Stephen King reviewed it and called it “A hell of a good book. Funny and scary.” Given the assumptions I had about this book, that type of review caught me off guard. Having Stephen King call a book scary is a pretty big endorsement. While I agree it was a hell of a good book, and most definitely funny (shout out to Madeline), I really didn’t find it scary. I think if I were to describe Big Little Lies I would call it a small town, suburban thriller. The plot is not for the faint of heart: the book delves into complex issues like abuse and affairs. What I think is great is how the author handles these topics. The abuse is not trivialized: Liane Moriarty treats it like the complex and emotional situation it is. The abuse is mental as well as physical: it’s a horrible, complicated situation. Celeste is not written as a Mary-Jane putting up with her toxic relationship because she thinks she deserves it or her love for her husband is worth it, she is actively trying to reconcile what her life has become and set herself and her family free.
The way this story is told is incredibly unique: you start with small snippets about the end of the book. As you read, you get more plot puzzle pieces and try to fill in the gaps with your own assumptions: what happened at the fundraiser? Why are the police involved? The narrative jumps between the points of view of Celeste, Jane and Madeline. Sprinkled among the main narratives are snippets of the police interviews with the attendees of the ill-fated fundraiser. They’re only brief statements by characters, but you start to piece together the events as if you were the police interrogator. I love the element of suspense and mystery this storytelling style brought to the plot.
This book centers around three leading ladies: Celeste, Madeline and Jane. Celeste and Madeline are established, middle aged fully suburban-ized moms. They know how to work the local social circles, the dangerous politics of kindergarten parents, and know how to politely envy another family’s house or life. Jane on the other hand is a young mom scraping together to make ends meet who Madeline sweeps up under her wing. Jane and her son quickly become kindergarten pariahs after an unfortunate incident with Jane’s son and one of the queen bee mom’s daughters. Madeline is a firecracker: she knows the rules and actively flaunts against them. She’s the kind of person who is never satisfied with what she has, she always strives for more. Celeste is a quietly fiesty ex-lawyer. She adores her family and her mind often wanders. Of course, these are very superficial descriptions of the characters, but to describe them more would be to spoil parts of the book. They are all incredibly well developed characters with wit, flaws, and killer drama.
Big Little Lies is worth the buzz it receives. It’s a dark, dishy book, almost like sitting around a bottle of wine with your friends gossiping. With a little bit of murder mixed in. I would highly recommend anyone interested in the TV show starts with the book first. While the TV show is amazing, it does take some liberties with the plot (not all good ones). Hurry, read this book before season two comes out (because even though it’s not based on the book, Meryl Streep is in it).