Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Review of "Truly Madly Guilty" by Liane Moriarty
Liane Moriarty is a popular best-selling author and her latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, garnered a lot of hype and many good reviews. That said, the book was just okay for me.
Set in Sydney, Australia, the story is about an unfortunate incident that occurs during a backyard barbeque. The cookout's hosts are Vid and Tiffany - a rich sociable couple that live in a luxurious home with their 10-year-old daughter Dakota. The guests include the hosts' next-door neighbors Erika and Oliver and their friends Clementine and Sam who bring their two little girls Holly (5) and Ruby (2). The story skips back and forth in time, depicting events before the barbeque, on the day of the barbeque, and after the barbeque.
As the story unfolds we learn the backstories of some of the characters. Erika had a difficult shame-filled childhood with her mother Sylvia, a narcissistic and delusional hoarder. Feeling bad for Erika, Clementine's mother Pam took the girl under her wing and pushed Clementine to be friends with her - which Clementine resented. Erika's husband Oliver also had a dysfunctional childhood, with two alcoholic parents. Thus Erika and Oliver - both damaged - understand each other and have a quiet successful marriage.
Clementine, by contrast, had a happy childhood.....aside from being irritated by Erika's constant presence. Clementine had loving parents, a nice home, and musical talent that was nurtured by her family. Clementine is now a professional cellist, happily married to public relations honcho Sam. Though Clementine and Sam's lives are somewhat fraught - with two small kids, two careers, and Clementine's constant fretting about auditions - the couple meanders along quite happily.
Vid is an electrician who resembles 'Tony Soprano' and Tiffany is a successful property developer with an eye-catching sexy figure. Tiffany unashamedly admits she once worked as a pole dancer to make money for school. The couple enjoy throwing parties and Vid loves to cook - so he serves tasty dishes from recipes he finds on the internet. (I got a yen to try some of his dishes....ha ha ha.)
On the day of the barbeque tension arises early because Erika and Oliver make a request of Clementine and Sam that throws the couple off-kilter. So it's not surprising that there's a little too much drinking and hilarity at the cookout, leading to an unfortunate occurrence. A good part of the book drops hints about the incident at the barbeque, details the emotions and actions of the characters, and relates consequences after the cookout. I have to say - after the HUGE build-up - I found the 'barbeque incident' rather predictable and mundane, and the consequences overblown and unrealistic.
That said there are things I like about the story. It has some clever surprises and twists, and some memorable characters and scenes. For example, Sylvia the hoarder (Erika's mom) is sly, phony, funny....and VERY irritating. And social worker Pam (Clementine's mom) is overly self-righteous in her do-gooding, interfering zeal. At one point Pam gives a dinner party speech that made me (and the book's characters) quite uncomfortable. These behaviors - though squirm inducing - add interest to the story. On the other hand, 5-year-old Holly is a hoot when she sprinkles her conversation with "air quotes" on random words.
The first two-thirds of the book held my attention, after which I was slightly bored. And the story's final scenes didn't ring true to me. I would mildly recommend this book to fans of Liane Moriarty but it's not as good as her earlier work (IMO).