What happened at the bloody barbecue?!

Author: Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty CoverAustralian novelist Liane Moriarty is a crazy good writer, but she defies labels. She doesn’t write chick lit (for lack of a better word), and she doesn’t write thrillers. She doesn’t write literary fiction, either, although she does have a cunning way with plot and character development. Instead, her books make you feel like you’re at a cocktail party, surrounded by a knot of clever and fashionably dressed women who are relishing their gossip and cosmos.

But just when you start to wonder if the cocktail party has any real substance, a bomb (figuratively speaking) plummets through the roof and explodes at your feet. And then you look around in alarm and find that your fellow party-goers aren’t the people you thought they were. You notice that their mascara is smudged, their hair is a mess, and their backs are stooped with serious-scary baggage like domestic violence, mental illness, and infidelity.

Moriarty’s newest novel, Truly Madly Guilty, stays true to her gift of creating this cocktail-party-with-major-fissures atmosphere, although this time the cocktail party is a backyard barbecue in the Sydney suburbs. Three couples and three children are in attendance, and before the evening is over their lives will—of course—be splintered.

As with all of Moriarty’s books, I read Truly Madly Guilty with feelings of, well, guilty pleasure. She provides the viewpoints of various characters so you are able to find out how they really feel about each other, which is positively delicious. She also has a way of dishing out cliffhangers at the end of nearly every chapter, causing this particular reader to stay up well past her bedtime.

The chapters alternate between present day and the day of the barbecue, which occurred a couple months prior. But it takes more than 200 pages to find out what actually happened during the gathering. In my opinion, 200 pages was a wee bit long for Moriarty to sustain her usually pitch-perfect sense of foreboding. I found myself muttering, “Let’s get on with it, already.”

But that’s a small price to pay for a book that is generous in so many other ways. Moriarty is a wife and mother herself, so she gets it. She knows what it’s like to juggle jobs, families and friends, and she’s unafraid to depict women’s lives as the beautiful, complicated things they are. I think, in fact, she would be a perfect person to have a cocktail with.

-Laura Anne Bird

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Laura Bird