While originally published in 2014, the novel “Big Little Lies” — helped along by the miniseries adaptation recently released by HBO — has garnered plenty of attention this year. Written by Liane Moriarty, the book revolves around a community in Monterey, Cali. that is full of beautiful people, gorgeous real estate and seemingly bright, gifted children. This is the dream life, the life that many families would kill to have. But what appears to be angelic on the surface is far darker than the average outsider could imagine. Full of betrayal, rumors and ruthless competition, Monterey is hiding much more than your average California suburb; namely, murder.
The story primarily revolves around three different women who “stand out” in the Monterey community for assorted reasons: Jane Chapman, a young mom with a traumatic past who has recently moved to town with her son, Ziggy; Madeline MacKenzie, mom of two and self-righteous to a fault; and Celeste Wright, a beautiful stay-at-home mom whose passionate marriage is constantly the talk of the town.
The story is told through a combination of flashbacks and first person narratives, starting when Jane’s son gets accused by another student of bullying on the first day of school. After she denies the claim, sides are quickly drawn between disagreeing families; as the story continues to unfold, you begin to realize that each family is hiding a secret that has defined a large part of who they are, and they all will likely be the reason these secrets unravel.
With one liners zinging back and forth and an undeniable chemistry, the dialogue alone is enough to keep you on the hook until the story’s end. It would’ve been easy for Moriarty to fall into the trap of writing her characters as caddy, bitchy women and fulfilling the “mommy wars” stereotype. Instead, she’s able to bring you full circle with each character’s story, writing with a nuanced style that adds layers of depth and meaning. Although you may not like or agree with what each character does, you will understand them. And understanding is often more important than agreement when it comes to truly memorable characters.
The true genius behind the book is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a parent. It doesn’t matter if you make more than $100,000 a year, if you live on the ocean shores or if you have a typical suburban background. To enjoy this read, what matters is that every single person experiences vulnerability. All of us have secrets; there are reasons why we do what we do, attached to the white lies and tall tales that we tell ourselves — or others — just to get by.