At this point, Liane Moriarty is a household name as HBO's Big Little Lies brought her to the attention of entertainment lovers everywhere. A couple of years ago I wrote a book talk on Liane's novel The Husband's Secret and since she has become one of my favorite contemporary fiction authors. I recently read Truly Madly Guilty and it was just as great as I expected!
A short synopsis: What's the worst that could happen when 3 normal families in Sydney, Australia get together for a barbecue? Clementine and Sam appear to be the perfectly balanced family unit: Sam has a simple corporate job in marketing, Clementine is pursuing her passion as a cellist, and they have two lovely daughters. Erika is Clementine's best friend—they grew up together and they're practically sisters. Tiffany and Vid are Erika and her husband, Oliver's life-of-the-party neighbors who embrace any opportunity for a get-together. Two months after the BBQ it's still on everyone's mind and the question on everyone's mind is what would life be like if it never happened?
Clementine and Sam, Erika and Oliver, and Tiffany and Vid are ordinary people just like you and I. Each have complex and detailed histories that influence their thoughts and actions and make them into the who they are. It's easy to recognize ourselves, our friends, our parents, or even our friend's parents in each of the characters and it makes the story feel shockingly familiar. Until it's not. Truly Madly Guilty does a great job of building the story to a point that feels predictable, and to some extent it is, but there's always a twist that is revealed at the end that will make you shed a tear or sleep with one eye open.
As I mentioned in my last book talk, there are so many books that once I start I cannot stop. Interestingly, this wasn't one of them. Though I was captivated by the story, there was so much going on at the end of every chapter that it was kind of a relief to close the book and sit with it for a while. With any mystery, half the fun is trying to guess what happened and the satisfaction that comes at the end when you're right (or when you say you were right all along) is unparalleled. Over the course of reading Truly Madly Guilty I had at least 4 different scenarios in my mind for what happened the day of the barbecue and in the end, I couldn't have been farther from the truth.
Truly Madly Guilty also does a great job of representing children. Reminiscent of Big Little Lies, children are crucial in the plot and it likely wouldn't exist without them (*wink*). Tiffany and Vid's daughter, Dakota, and Clementine and Sam's daughter, Holly, are old enough to have motives and opinions of their own that are too quickly dismissed by the adults of the story. Their insight shows that children often pick up on much more than adults realize and should not be discounted. The idea that everyone has a role is present in many ways in the story.
Parents also play a huge role in Truly Madly Guilty. Clementine's mother has always shown a slight preference for Erika instead of Clementine; but is Erika really as obsessed with Clementine's life as Clementine has always believed? Erika grew up in the household of a hoarder; but is she decidedly unattached or does she have more in common with her mother than she likes to think? Oliver's parents were alcoholics; as an adult does he have the structure and control that he yearned for as a child and is it what he really needs? Whether they can see it or not, the lives of Clementine, Erika, and the whole gang are largely dictated by their parents and now they are shaping the futures of their children with every decision they make.
I would be remiss to talk about Truly Madly Guilty and leave out Harry, the cantankerous, moody, and downright unpleasant neighbor of Erika, Oliver, Tiffany, and Vid. He seems insignificant for the first half of the book, but as the story progressed I appreciated him and he became my hero. A word of advice: love thy neighbor (no matter what).
If you're a reader who appreciates the ordinary stories in life, this book is for you. I highly recommend it to lovers of The Nest. After surfing the internet for a bit, I discovered that Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman had purchased the rights for this story...back in 2016, so it doesn't look like Truly Madly Guilty will be headed to the big screen anytime soon. At least we can look forward to Big Little Lies season 2 on HBO (featuring Meryl Streep!!). xx, Lauren