I don’t believe in diets. In fact I’m pretty vocal about how ridiculous and counterproductive they are. Part of the reason is because of the fast-binge cycle: your body isn’t built for nutrient deprivation and so you get hungrier and hungrier until you find yourself crouched over the tub of icecream in the middle of the night wondering for what purpose you ever started out.
It seems the same may be true of novels. Once I’d read the terrible John Grishman novel, I felt I’d opened a floodgate where instead of reading nutrient dense fantastically rich and inspiring and energizing novels, I’d give it all up and go on just reading sugary crap. Forget that reading well written novels is far and away my favourite way to spend free time (or time that isn’t free, that I read anyway). I was now a person who read trash and so I might as well embrace it.
So when I found myself with S. and R. at the bookstore in the town near the cottage I thought ‘given that I’m not a person who reads trash, I ought to buy a terrible novel so I can continue to clog my mental arteries (and secure my impression on this blog as an utter literary snob).’ So I bought Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty. Mostly I bought it for the title: a) because it pays homage to my all time favourite song, Truly Madly Deeply (for which I do not apologize because I understand I have horrendous taste in music and because I want to bathe with you in the sea) and b) it is a title that screams I Am Not a Serious Novel. Plus it was on discount because it was such a mad bestseller.
Imagine my surprise (and outrage!) when it turned out to be… pretty good. Like an almost perfect balance of absorbing and well crafted (note this is not the same as brilliantly written), with a thoughtful moral question and reasonably well drawn characters. I’m not saying this is a beautifully written book – it’s not. It won’t have you pausing to admire the quality of a sentence, or to note the layering of meaning. Everything is pretty on the surface here. But what is there is well done. It reminds me a little of a novel from one of those make-your-own layered soup jars. You know the sort where there are beans, and then a layer of grain, and a layer of dehydrated vegetable, and all you have to do is pour everything into the pot with some water? Well this novel has that sort of feel. Moriarity spent the time to figure out the motivation of characters, the pacing and scheme of the plot, the central moral question and then stirred it altogether with doses of humour and wit.
The general premise (I should at least offer you that) is the question of how one event can change everything and always have you wondering ‘what if.’ In this case the Event That Cannot Be Named happens at a BBQ and it changes the three couples who attend radically. You spend a great portion of the novel working up to what the Event is – and I’ll admit I was alternately intrigued and frustrated by the failure to just SAY WHAT HAPPENED ALREADY. But I suppose it’s part of the suspense building and page-turning quality. (I do think on balance I found it more annoying than gratifying, but it’s an okay level of annoying).
We explore the event itself and its fallout in alternating chapters (not strictly alternating, but more or less) and from shifting third person limited narration from those who attended. The consequence of this narrative voice is an attachment and investment in all those who attended, as well as a believable interest in how the characters have been impacted. The characters really are well done with complete backstories and believable development (again the instant-pot comes to mind, as I do think Moriarty had some kind of chart where she described each character to the degree that she knew their favourite food and type of shampoo).
So while you may be tempted to read this one on an e-reader, or to wrap it in some sort of covering so that no one knows you’re reading a book with such a ridiculous title… I do think you’d have a lot of fun reading it. Might be the perfect sort of book to read while wearing a heavy sweater and sipping a pumpkin spice latte. Because believe me. If you’re reading this novel you’re also okay drinking a PSL.