What kind of mom are you? As a mom to three little ones, it’s a question I’ve asked myself often. Ideally, I’d love to be that mom who has it all together, who successfully holds down a full-time job while still managing to make magazine-worthy cake pops for one daughter’s class party, attend my second child’s preschool Christmas concert and ensure my baby has enough “tummy time” throughout the day. There are moms out there who do this – I’ve seen them, albeit from afar, like spotting a rare animal while on safari.
But alas, I’m not one of these moms. I’m the mom who forgets her daughter’s big project until the night before it’s due, and then frantically searches the shelves at the local Dollar Store for the necessary supplies. I’m the mom who buys a carton of pre-made cupcakes from Safeway for the class party and doesn’t even bother to switch them into a Tupperware container so they at least “look” homemade. I’m the mom who manages, but always feels like I’m shortchanging someone, whether it’s my job, my kids or my long-suffering husband.
Reading my way through Liane Moriarty’s latest, Big Little Lies, I couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief as I recognized, in the characters so adeptly created by Moriarty, kindred spirits, moms who struggle to make it all work and the competition that we create for each other as we struggle to do it all, and do it better than everyone else.
The beautiful seaside community of Pirriwee Beach seems idyllic, on the surface. When single mom Jane arrives in town with her five-year old son Ziggy, she falls in love with the beach, the atmosphere, the sense of peace that steals over her. Here, Jane decides, she has found a place where she can leave the demons of her past behind. When she meets local mom Madeline, an outgoing extrovert whose outspoken nature makes her a force truly to be reckoned with, Jane feels she’s truly found her place.
But all is not what it seems in Pirriwee Beach. Madeline’s seemingly perfect family is in the midst of a crisis. Madeline’s ex-husband has moved to Pirriwee, years after abandoning Madeline and their daughter Abigail, with his new wife and child. Teenaged Abigail, in a typically rebellious teenager move, has decided she’d rather live with her father and his new family, leaving Madeline feeling jealous, abandoned and grief-stricken.
Madeline’s best friend Celeste seems to have it all together. Stunningly beautiful and married to a wealthy businessman, Celeste has twin boys and a life that anyone would envy. But under the surface, Celeste is hiding a terrible secret that she’s terrified the rest of the community might discover.
By the end of the first day of school, Jane has come to realize that, far from being peaceful and calm, Pirriwee Beach is a battleground, at least amongst the moms whose children attend the local school. When Ziggy is accused of hurting another student, Jane finds herself ostracized by the other mothers, with only Madeline and Celeste on her side. As the days go by, the battle lines become more vividly and deeply drawn, until a confrontation becomes inevitable.
The final scene is much more dramatic than anyone might have anticipated however, when the school’s annual Trivia Night fundraiser ends in a brutal murder. With the entire community taking sides, and virtually everyone involved hiding a secret, it’s only a matter of time before the lid is blown off Pirriwee with explosive force.
I loved this book, devouring its nearly 500 pages in record time. Moriarty writes with a sardonic wit, and crafts characters who are believable and easy to empathize with. Anyone who has stood at the school playground, surveying the mommy cliques and feeling like an outsider, will be able to identify with Jane’s plight. At the same time, the book approaches some really serious issues such as domestic violence, the aftermath of divorce and the fierce competition to be a good mom with sensitivity and insight. A truly excellent read!