Sadly, there is too much trope and too much tease in Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty for it to stand up well in comparison to her previous novels—Big Little Lies or What Alice Forgot. In this latest, the women come off as cliches—the stripper with a heart of gold, the childless woman who desperately wants children, and the talented artist, haunted and insecure.
The men fare no better: they are relentlessly two dimensional—the mafia don who’s surprisingly sensitive, the supportive husband who would make a wonderful father (if only he had children), and the husband who’s not so supportive but a good father. None of the characters—male or female— are fleshed out fully enough to make them much more than prompts which a creative writing teacher hands out to see if the class can turn a cliche into something more.
Moriarty also engages in heavy-handed hint-dropping—Something Terrible Happens at a neighborhood barbecue, an event that forms the mystery at the heart of the novel. The author titillates us with words like “nightmare,” “guilt and horror,” and “skanky, sleazy sex” far too long before she gets around to revealing the really not-so-terrible event.
In the process, we are whipped back and forth in time between dysfunctional childhoods, the state of marriages and friendships before Something Terrible Happened, and the state of those relationships after Something Terrible Happened. Moriarty is stronger here, so if you’re looking for a beach read illustrating how even near-tragedy can pick at the loose threads of a relationship until it unravels completely, this is the book for you.
Things almost get interesting when, during the barbecue, the Stripper With the Heart of Gold realizes that both husband and wife of one of the couples find her equally intriguing. Within the hearing range of their children, she offers to spice up their predictably stale sex life. Alas, the gesture is rudely interrupted when the Something Terrible Happens, causing everyone to feel Terrible not only because of what Happens, but also because they were just about to enjoy some creative sexual play before the Something Terrible Happened.
Plot and characters have that undeniable whiff of soap opera. Perhaps due to repetition, perhaps to less fully drawn characters, this newer novel lacks the heft of Big Little Lies, a book that uses many of the same plot devices but to better effect. It’s unfortunate, but aside from a few good scenes, you’ll have no problem putting Truly Madly Guilty down when it’s time to go to sleep so you can get up for work the next day.
Cara spent 10 years as a Library Reader’s Advisor in between performing with a belly dance troupe and teaching dance classes. She prefers Swinburne to Shelley, Faulkner to Hemingway, and can be found on most rainy days curled up with a good book and a cup of earl gray, hot.