I’ve just finished reading the newest novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, Truly Madly Guilty, and I found it to be as wonderful and satisfying as I do all of her novels. However, while the book touched on all of the themes that she so wonderfully delves into in her books — including marriage, mental illness, parenting, and friendship — this novel had, overall, a much more serious and somber tone that her books generally do. This book found Moriarty writing a much more subdued novel than usual (certainly more so than her funny, wonderful, wild Big Little Lies) which noticeably less melodrama and much more….well, drama.
As always, Moriarty introduces us to characters that are well-drawn, relatable, and whose internal and external struggles feel very familiar, as accurate and intense as ones we too might experience. Here, we meet Clementine a professional cellist and married mother of two whose career is struggling under her familial demands. Her husband, Sam, is a modern father and husband, happily sharing the raising of her daughters with Clementine even if he does like to lord over his wife his superior brand of parenting. The couple has long-term but very intense relationship with a woman, Erika, who was a de facto foster child in Clementine’s home growing up. Erika and Clementine have a relationship based shared past peppered with deep veins of distrust and envy. Erika and her husband Oliver play a strange role in the lives of the Clementine and her family, something less like friends and more like acquaintances who share, sometimes unwillingly, private moments together.
As is her practice, the author tells the story out of order, weaving together past and present events from the points of view of all of the stories narrators; telling the story of how dramatic events can bring some people together and tears others apart. Also of note, are the book’s tender and nuanced portrayals of the complex and terrifying realities of mental illness. In this particular book, it is not only two female characters who struggle, but also one of the male characters as well.
Just as her books always do, Moriarty’s stories feel so possible, as if our lives, too, are just one afternoon — one moment — away from changing forever. The stories are so real that they are unsettling because readers can always see themselves in at least one, if not all, of her characters. It is impossible to read her stories and not think “what would I do? would my marriage survive? would I survive?”