I was never very good at navigating school yard politics. In fact, I was so bad at being popular (better put – I was aces at being unpopular) that I took to volunteering in the kindergarten room because it meant I wouldn’t have to go outside and could, instead, wash paint cups. To this day when I go for a walk around the time that school lets out and I see all the parents there to pick up their kids – huddled in groups and sipping from travel mugs while wearing more of their kids – I get nervous. I’m convinced before they see me – on my benign, unrelated walk – that they won’t like me. No doubt, I have issues with cliques and playgrounds.*
So I was full of sympathy for the women in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (the novel was adapted for an HBO series). The novel follows one group of women as they navigate the power and drama of being parents when you have to interact with other parents. Okay, that’s a lie, it’s a Liane Moriarty novel, so you know it’s going to be more of the Drama than that: there’s also a murder/death, and we’re meant to spend the novel piecing together what happened and how. And we do – the murder/death is sufficient pull to keep you reading well past bedtime (see #1: https://www.boredpanda.com/reading-quirks-comics-the-wild-detectives/?media_id=1151058) (credit to M. for sending me this set of comics. I laughed. I cried.). But this reader was also pulled along by interest in each of the characters and their particular plights.
I almost wrote ‘sincerely interested in each character,’ but I wasn’t really. Mostly because the characters are pretty surface. I mean, they have backstories and they do change, but they are all very… neat. Like you know the single mother who is nervous and insecure is going to behave entirely consistently and all the little pieces we learn about her are going to properly support that characterization. It’s a weird complaint, but everything – character, plot, theme – it all feels well etched and predictable (even while its mystery is part of what propels it!). I said this with the last Moriarty novel, but it reads like an instant-novel: like add this much character, this much setting, this much plot and stir. Which doesn’t make it bad! (I LOVE my InstantPot (TM) with a disturbing intensity…) Just… kind of formulaic. But still fun.
And there’s a decent commentary on class (one of the unbelievable parts of the novel is the social stratification apparently possible at this school – as if neighbourhoods haven’t self-selected along class lines by the price of real estate). And on domestic violence. And on the particular torment that can be inflicted by mob thinking and bullies.
It is the ideal book to take on a long flight. Or a beach holiday. Or to download as an audio book and listen to while getting dental work. Or – as I did – to prop up and read while riding a stationary bike so you can feel appropriately virtuous even while knowing you’re entirely ridiculous.
*My next post will be on Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye – a novel about (among other things) bullying. So more to come on the Feelings and Such Things in the next post.