Book chat: ‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty

Big Little LiesWhen’s the last time you raced through a book like wildfire, so caught up in the story that you’re unable — or unwilling — to set it down . . . even if that means Mt. Laundrymore has grown in your bedroom and dinner just ain’t getting made?

For me, it had been a while. My reading in 2014 was, to be honest, pretty lackluster. After learning I was pregnant in September, my concentration was pretty much shot. Nothing interested me. Even with stacks of novels just waiting to be picked up, I could barely muster the energy to crack their covers.

That malaise traveled well into November and December . . . until I found Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. A recommendation from Melissa, this novel follows the lives of several Australian families with children in the same kindergarten class: quiet Jane and her son, Ziggy, running from a disturbing past; beautiful Celeste with her wealthy and perfect husband, Perry, who transforms after-hours — and hides that side from their twin boys; outspoken Madeline and Ed, who are parents to two youngsters with Madeline’s teen daughter in the mix.

And then there are the Blonde Bobs: the seemingly-perfect moms who hover and preen and dictate, lording over the “inferior” parents when they dare darken the door of their beloved school. Madeline is well-versed in their antics . . . and all too happy to show newbie Jane, freshly arrived in Australia’s coastal Pirriwee, the ropes.

She knows young Jane needs it.

Interspersed with the narrative are snippets from an interview — and it’s clear something terrible has happened at the school’s Trivia Night. Terrible enough to leave someone dead. As readers, we don’t know what or who . . . but we do know when. And as we get ever closer to that fateful night, my heart began to pound.

What works so brilliantly in Big Little Lies is the wide, varied tapestry of characters we get to know and love. This is contemporary, domestic fiction that shimmers and shines; it’s engrossing, well-written, effortless to read. As I got sucked into Jane’s awful back story, Celeste’s current heartbreak and Madeline’s painful desire to connect with her daughter, I could think of little else. I didn’t want it to end.

But it did end . . . and what an explosive conclusion it was. I must admit to never guessing the twist, and the identity of the murder victim remained elusive until I literally gasped aloud during Trivia Night. My husband asked what was happening — but I shushed him, unable to fill him in with a little snippet. “It’s complicated,” I said.

It was . . . and it wasn’t. As Moriarty deftly unveiled many secrets, I was awestruck at her ability to throw me off while still leading me in the right direction the entire time. She got me — and she got me good.

With its glimpses into many marriages — some working, others not — and the families either trying to stay glued together or ripping apart at the seams, Big Little Lies will appeal to fans of domestic dramas and well-written contemporary fiction. I loved my time with Madeline, Jane and Celeste, and find myself thinking about them even after turning the final page.

4.5 out of 5

Pub: 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Backseat Saints’ by Joshilyn Jackson

Ro Grandee has been running from her ghost of a past for years now — but not even her husband’s unforgiving hands can shed her of her old life. Rose Mae Lolley — the hardscrabble girl she was in Alabama — still simmers beneath Ro’s perfect housewife persona. Now settled in Texas with Thom, her brute of a husband, Ro tries to make peace with the unpleasant hand life has dealt her — and keep her abusive spouse as calm as possible.

When a gypsy catches Ro’s attention at a nearby airport, she begins to question the many choices leading to her violent small-town life. At the top of her list is the sudden flight of her mother, who left her in her father’s drunken hands when Rose was young. When she searches her heart, Rose can’t help but also think of her first love, Jim Beverly. Jim swore he’d always protect her, but he disappeared just when she needed him most. Now determined to save herself before Thom changes everything irrevocably, Rose hatches a plan that may finally give her peace — and room to seal the past forever.

Joshilyn Jackson’s Backseat Saints is an emotional, disturbing and incredibly well-written novel centering around one of the most unique characters I’ve ever encountered. Throughout this compelling novel, Rose is Ro Grandee, Rose Mae Lolley and Ivy Wheeler, filling out each woman completely and in a different way. Her many incarnations are fascinating, and Jackson did a remarkable job of crafting an unexpected, believable tale.

To start, it’s impossible to discuss Backseat Saints without delving into domestic violence. Rose — temperamental, damaged, beautiful Rose — is a battered woman. Thom is a terrible, frightening brute — a man I wanted to come to a violent end almost from the beginning. There were parts of this book that were almost impossible to get through. I listened to this one on audio over the course of a week and, though I was desperate to know what would happen, my stomach often ached with anxiety. If I’d been reading a physical copy, I’m sure I would have skipped large passages.

Despite its disturbing subject matter, Backseat Saints was utterly absorbing. Jackson based a multi-layered tale on a broken narrator I cared for deeply, choosing to trust her despite her bad decisions. Each unexpected plot twist brought us closer to understanding how Rose became Ro, and I spent most of the story waiting for her to finally break free of Thom’s terrible bonds. All I wanted was for her to taste sweet freedom. But I knew that freedom had a price.

I loved Jackson’s peripheral characters, too, especially the kindhearted old dear Mrs. Fancy. Parker was a nice parallel to the horrible force that was Thom, and even Jim Beverly had a certain appeal through Rose’s eyes. After finishing Backseat Saints, I learned this book is a companion novel to Gods In Alabama. The latter explores the history of a sidebar character and greatly explores the fate of Jim Beverly, a character that fascinated me in Backseat Saints. I’m glad I didn’t know what became of him as I was reading. Everything about this book was a total surprise to me.

Listening to Backseat Saints on audio was a pleasure. Jackson herself narrated this strong Southern fiction, and her lilting twang was both comforting and engaging. Rose was brought to life by Jackson’s pitch-perfect narration. She did a wonderful job of differentiating between characters, too — even if her male voices sounded a bit hokey. Having Jackson read her story aloud was like Rose climbing into the car with me, vowing to fill me in from the beginning.

Fans of Southern fiction, women’s fiction and family dynamics will find a unique, unforgettable tale in Backseat Saints. The role of Rose’s Catholic faith in her decision-making was fascinating, too, and I felt like I’d been on an epic journey with her by the close of the novel. I’ll be backtracking to read Gods In Alabama next, and I have a feeling I’ll love it just as much. Jackson has an enthusiastic new fan.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0446582379 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from Chick Lit Is Not Dead