How interesting can a book about a group of parents brought together when their children attend the same kindergarten class possibly be? Very, when put in the capable hands of Liane Moriarty.
Madeline is a fixture at Pirriwee Public School, having sent her 14-year-old daughter Abigail through already. Now, on her daughter’s kindergarten orientation day, she is confident that the morning will be business as usual. It is, until a stumble in the street brings her into contact with Jane, a new mom in town. Madeline introduces Jane to her friend Celeste and the three are fast friends. By the time orientation is over Jane’s son has been accused of hurting a young girl in his class, Jane defends her son when he says he didn’t do it, Madeline defends Jane from the girl’s angry mother, and battle lines have been drawn. The book takes off from there, touching on school bullying, helicopter parenting, sexual violence, domestic abuse, female friendship, self-confidence, single parenting, money, blended families, the pressure of keeping up appearances, and the dangers of gossip while racing toward a stunning murder during the school’s Trivia Night fundraiser.
Sending your children to school is not unlike going back to school yourself and Moriarty captures that with biting accuracy. The “Blonde Bobs” (known for their similar fashionable haircuts) are the Type-A moms of Pirriwee Public, running committees and signing petitions. Moriarty perfectly captures these women and the children they treat as trophies. One parent quips that a mother is lucky to have a child that is both gifted and has a mild peanut allergy, exemplifying the ways in which motherhood is often viewed as a competition and how having more of a struggle is seen as a badge of honor and a sign of dedication. There’s also a quiet rivalry brewing between the “career moms” and the “stay at homes” that any mother would probably recognize on some level. As a woman with a child in elementary school, I do not find these characterizations to hit far from their mark.
Moriarty peppers the novel with police interview tidbits from the other parents at the school that serve as a Greek chorus, commenting (usually with a delicious bit of snark) about the goings-on at the school. Their insight into the dynamics of the school community were a great insight into how much gossip and social alliances can color the reputations of others. They were often some of the funniest, laugh-out-loud moments in the book.
Mrs. Lipmann: Look, I’d rather not say anything further. We deserve to be left in peace. A parent is dead. The whole school community is grieving.
Gabrielle: Hmmm, I wouldn’t say the entire school community is grieving. That might be a stretch.
The characterization was perfect, with each woman, husband, and child having a unique voice and well-developed persona. The infuriating voice of Madeline’s teen daughter was even spot-on, projecting just the right balance of self-absorption, self-righteousness, and naiveté all at once. When you can accurately capture how infuriating and adorable a 14-year-old girl can be, you know you’ve done something right.
There were no wasted scenes and no points at which the book dragged. All of the subplots converged and were resolved at just the right time and the ending was satisfyingly believable. In the end, Big Little Lies showcased just what kind of lies we tell ourselves and other and the disastrous consequences those lies can have.
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