Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2014)
Liane Moriarty is a great story teller and Big Little Lies is one of those engaging books that the reader doesn't want to end because it is such a riveting read. Although written in 2014, Moriarty's novel has been adapted recently for television by HBO. First aired in February 2017 the mini-series features Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Alexander Skarsgard, Adam Scott, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Zoe Kravitz, an impressive cast.
Set by the seaside in Pirriwee, Australia, Big Little Lies is centered around the stories of three women, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, whose lives intertwine when their children all attend kindergarten at Pirriwee Public, the local elementary school. An unfortunate incident that happens at the orientation for kindergarten begins the connection between the three protagonists.
Jane, the single mother of an imaginative five year old named Ziggy, has come to Pirriwee to create a life for herself and her son, who is the result of an unfortunate one night stand when Jane was only 19. The ramifications of the night when Ziggy was conceived are so disturbing that they have kept Jane emotionally paralyzed even in the present. Mother of a teenage daughter, Abigail, as well as a five year old daughter from her second marriage, Madeline befriends Jane early in the story. Madeline is struggling with the fact that her ex-husband, Nathan, has settled in town with his second wife, Bonnie, and their child who attends the same class with Madeline's little girl. Madeline has difficulty coping with the close proximity of the husband who abandoned her and his new wife. Finally, there is Celeste, a gorgeous, leggy lady, with a seemingly perfect life, twin boys, handsome husband, lots of money, and a ferociously dark, ugly secret about what goes on inside her palatial home.
The plot of Big Little Lies is skillfully woven. There has been a murder, which is revealed early in the novel. Each chapter moves the characters through the events leading up to Trivia Night, a big fund-raiser/party at which the climatic moment occurs, but tacked on to the end of each chapter are statements by those who witnessed or are investigating what happened that night. The effect of this literary technique is to heighten the suspense as the story moves forward.
The seed for Moriarty's novel came when she heard a radio interview in which a woman revealed her tainted childhood. Her parents' abusive relationship often spurred her to hide under her bed to escape the terror that was going on in the home. The theme of domestic abuse, in all its ugliness, becomes a focal point for more than one of the main characters. Moriarty ties the impact of witnessing violence in the home to incidences of bullying by children who experience such horror in the place that is supposed to be their safe havens.
By linking domestic abuse to bullying behaviors, Moriarty helps us understand how to cope with the violent world in which too many women and children live today. Late in the novel Madeline comes to this realization: “It occurred to her that there were so many levels of evil in the world. Small evils like her own malicious words. Like not inviting a child to a party. Bigger evils like walking out on your wife and newborn baby or sleeping with your child's nanny. And then there was the sort of evil of which Madeline had no experience: cruelty in hotel rooms and violence in suburban homes and little girls being sold like merchandise, shattering innocent hearts.” (p.411)
What Madeline and her friends come to understand is that by standing up for what is right, by confronting evil, and by taking responsibility for one's actions, evil can be combated and effectively denied.
Although set half-way around the world from America, Big Little Lies is universal in its depiction of contemporary life. There are secondary characters, like the “Blonde Bobs,” whom we all recognize as catty women with superior attitudes who thrive on gossip and the misery of others. There are delightful characters as well, like Tom the local barista, who owns the local coffee shop Blues Blues, a haven for those in need of a homey, quiet space in which to relax. Even Abigail, Madeline's fourteen year old daughter, develops a social conscience and comes up with a unique plan to raise money for young girls who are held as sex slaves in third world countries.
If you are a fan of the novels of Jodi Picoult, you will enjoy Moriarty. There are similarities in the topics that these contemporary writers use to reflect on the world in which we live.
Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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