Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: Truly, Madly, Guilty

I wavered on whether to bill Truly, Madly, Guilty as a highly recommended title. On the one hand, it was a thoroughly absorbing read, where I could not wait to return to the book and find out a bit more and just a bit more. On the other hand, since I listened to it in audio format (while walking on my treadmill and doing dishes), I had to be very careful not to listen in moments when my children were nearby because there was a great deal of discussion about sexuality in the story. In past novels by this author, I have felt that the sex was somewhat necessary to tell the story adequately (for example, in The Husband's Secret, a great deal depends on the revelation of the secret and how that secret impacts the husband-wife relationship). However, in this case, the sexuality seemed less essential to the telling of the story. It is true that there was a frisson of sexuality hanging in the air in the moments before the big moment that shattered their lives, but still ... the constant referral to sexuality kept me from feeling like this is a book to be highly recommended. Moreover, while I love tension to be drawn out, it seemed as if the crux of the matter took forever to be exposed. Even so, I did enjoy the book immensely and marveled at the author's skill in creating fully fleshed-out characters, with realistic conflicts, exposed moment-by-moment, until a full picture developed and left you with a story you couldn't forget.

At one point in the book, a character is asked to describe himself as a vegetable and he selects onion because "he has so many layers." That is an apt description of this book. It has many layers. There are subplots and side-trips that all come together when, finally, the event is revealed (far too deep into the book). The final taste, while it can be pleasant and complimentary, is also somewhat stringent.

Clementine and Erika have been friends since childhood, but their friendship is a complicated thing. Although each of them have doting husbands, satisfying careers, and much to be grateful for, there is a sense of dissatisfaction both individually and between them. The bonds of their friendship are tested most significantly through the events of one afternoon barbecue at Erika's neighbor's house. The neighbors, Vid and Tiffany, are a colorful couple who live out loud and are thrilled to be entertaining both Erika and her husband Oliver, and Clementine and her husband Sam, along with the children, Dakota (Vid and Tiffany's 10 year-old daughter) and Holly and Ruby (Clementine and Sam's six and two year old daughters). In a moment of conviviality, something goes horribly wrong and everyone is left wishing they could simply strike that day from their memories.

As the back cover of the audio-book proclaims, "In Truly, Madly, Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundation of our lives, marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows us how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don't say can be more powerful than what we do, and how too often we don't appreciate how extraordinary our ordinary lives are until it's too late." These topics are held up to a magnifying glass until every aspect is exposed and investigated.

I enjoyed the details that emerged to tell the story. It was as if Moriarty was a painter, with a clear picture in her head, who dabs on a bit of paint here and then a bit of paint there, until the audience finally understands exactly what the portrait displays and how the paint works together to create the full effect. The tension was strong. I felt pulled along by the intense desire to know exactly what really took place at the barbecue and how it could have left such powerful ripples in the lives of the participants. The characters, each with their faults, foibles, and personal tics, were three-dimensional and seemed to come alive and feel like real living beings. The exploration of guilt was thought-provoking. The dissection of friendship rang true. This was a fully relatable tale that was expertly crafted (even if it took a tad bit too long to get to the meat of the matter and you felt like you were being endlessly teased with these exquisitely tasty details). Kudos to Liane Moriarty for yet another entertaining read!

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