Ever since I listened to Big Little Lies last year, I’ve been a huge Liane Moriarty fan. Her books are an appealing mix of humor and reality that touch on every day challenges but also have an intriguing element of mystery. Her latest release, Truly, Madly, Guilty, has gotten mixed reviews. In fact, I know some people who refuse to read it because their friends have hated it. My book club buddy Caroline found the first half of the novel so frustrating, she removed it from our 2017 reading list.
So of course, I had to check it out.
Truly, Madly, Guilty tells the story of an innocent backyard barbecue gone terribly wrong. Moriarty gives us a main cast of three quirky couples and explores how the events of one Sunday afternoon forces them to reconsider their marriages, their identities, and their parenting skills.
As always, Moriarty gives readers well-developed, multidimensional characters. They are obsessive, charismatic, and interesting, and she provides back story for their idiosyncrasies and empathy for their weaknesses. Also, her “reveals” – one big one in the middle and a few smaller ones near the end – were satisfying and surprising. At the end, she does a nice job of tying up seemingly unrelated plot threads. Moriarty has a knack for capturing essential truths about life, like the strain between dysfunctional parents and their adult children, with stunning clarity. I always find a few key lines in her books that make me nod and say, “Exactly!” Truly, Madly, Guilty was no exception.
What I didn’t like
Caroline was right; the first half of Truly, Madly, Guilty is extremely frustrating. The characters keep lamenting the “barbecue in that ridiculous back yard”, but it takes a couple hundred pages (or, for the listener, a couple of hours) to finally learn what happened that was so terrible. Although I appreciate the need to build suspense, Moriarty indulges in lengthy scenes that spend too much time on unnecessary details.
In the January 2017 issue of Writers Digest, Moriarty explains that she structured the book as she did so that readers wouldn’t judge the reactions of the characters. She said, “…some readers did get impatient, and some admitted to me that they flipped ahead… This was a particularly tricky book in terms of structure, and who knows if I got it right.” I think the structure could have worked if she trimmed down her excessive descriptions of everyday life and painted her characters and their relationships more succinctly. For example, the first half of the novel has a long, painful scene about a young family trying to find a lost shoe. The tedious dialogue is punctuated by a child repeatedly asking for a cracker. Instead of piquing my interest in the characters and the dynamics between them, the scene annoyed me as if it were a whiny child itself.
Although I don’t think this is Moriarty’s best book, and I did find the first half trying, in the end, I’m glad I finished it. I laughed, I cried, and I thought seriously about my relationship with my husband and children. To me, that makes a good story.
Word Nerd Notes
I listened to the audio book version, narrated by Caroline Lee, who always does a great job with Moriarty’s books. But perhaps reading the hard copy would be good for this one, since you can skim through some of the slower parts.
Have you read Truly, Madly, Guilty? Why or why isn’t it worth the read? Help my readers decide if they should try it.