The other day, I finished reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. There are so many reason why I found it a fascinating book, one of which was how it served as a conduit into a fellow writer’s brain.
Set in Australia, Big Little Lies could just as easily take place in the U.S. or anywhere else in the Western World where mid- to upper-middle class suburbia exists.
The drama is set around an elementary school, though it’s hardly child’s play. A murder is almost immediately introduced, leaving a whodunit question lingering over the rest of the story, which also ends up addressing both kindergarten and adult bullies.
Yet Big Little Lies still manages to be lighthearted often enough. Even funny. One of the three main characters is a cheerfully opinionated, fashion-obsessed gossip who’s maybe more relatable than some of us readers would like to admit.
Part of the reason why she manages to be so flawed and yet so likable is that she’ll readily admit to her faults, including the intense irritation she feels toward her ex-husband and his second wife, who just so happen to have a daughter the same age as her own youngest. So naturally, they go to the same elementary school.
Complicated, I know.
It’s among those complications that the writer threw in a whole lot of well-placed philosophical musings, as if Big Little Lies was her outlet for expressing her opinions and questions about the world, and what’s right and wrong.
She’s never pushy about it, but I could nonetheless hear her voice – not the narrator’s and not the characters’ voices. Hers. – coming through more and more the further along I got into the book. For example, Moriarty has a whole section where she’s trying to sort out the world’s view of women:
“I mean, a fat ugly man can still be funny and lovable and successful,” continued Jane. “But it’s like it’s the most shameful thing for a woman to be.” “But you weren’t. You’re not –” began Madeline. “Yes, OK. But so what if I was!” interrupted Jane. “What if I was? That’s my point. What if I was a bit overweight and not especially pretty? Why is that so terrible? So disgusting? Why is that the end of the world? “It’s because a woman’s entire self-worth rests on her looks,” said Jane. “That’s why. It’s because we live in a beauty-obsessed society where the most important thing a woman can do is make herself attractive to men.
That made me think, particularly since Moriarty, in the guise of her character, didn’t just blame the whole issue on men. She acknowledged women’s culpability in the matter too.
Which, in all honesty, sometimes I think that women are their own worst enemies.
Then there was Madeline’s musings about money and beauty:
Why did they all have to tread so very delicately around Celeste’s money? It was like wealth was an embarrassing medical condition. It was the same with Celeste’s beauty. Strangers gave Celeste the same furtive looks they gave to people with missing limbs, and if Madeline ever mentioned Celeste’s looks, Celeste responded with something like shame. “Shhh,” she’d say, looking around fearfully in case someone overheard. Everyone wanted to be rich and beautiful, but the truly rich and beautiful had to pretend they were just the same as everyone else. Oh, it was a funny old world.
I really do feel that Madeline once again managed to express the author’s thoughts when it came to evil and the question of how in the world to deal with it:
… right this very moment, people were suffering unimaginable atrocities and you couldn’t close your heart completely, but you couldn’t leave it wide open either, because otherwise, how could you possibly live your life, when through pure, random luck, you got to live in paradise? You had to register the existence of evil, do the little that you could, and then close your mind and think about new shoes.
It occurred to her that there were so many levels of evil in the world. Small evils like her own malicious words. Like not inviting a child to a party. Bigger evils like walking out on your wife and newborn baby… And then there was the sort of evil which Madeline had no experience: cruelty in hotel rooms and violence in suburban homes and little girls sold like merchandise, shattering innocent hearts.
Or how about these little takeaways on a random assortment of topics:
“Parents do tend to judge each other. I don’t know why. Maybe because none of us really know what we’re doing?”
If she packaged the perfect Facebook life, maybe she would start to believe it herself.
She’d swallowed it whole and pretended it meant nothing, and therefore it had come to mean everything.
“Stick with the nice boys, Chloe,” said Madeline after a moment. “Like Daddy. Bad boys don’t bring you coffee in bed. I’ll tell you that for free.”
Since I don’t want to give the whole of Big Little Lies away "for free," I’ll leave it at that instead of quoting it to pieces. If you’re in the 18+ crowd and don’t mind a looser European-esque understanding of acceptable language, then I highly recommend this book for its plot and characters and philosophical ponderings that make you think, if even for just a second.
But even for those who don’t want to or shouldn’t read Liane Moriarty’s novel, there’s still something to be learned.
Analyzing life is a perfectly good reason to write a book. If you’re trying to work through an issue or understand a problem or explore your own opinions, it’s amazing how cathartic it can be to make someone else – a character of your own creation – sort it out for you.
It gives you a different perspective and even a sense of separation from the dilemma, allowing you to consider it more calmly than you otherwise would.
There are so many great reasons to write: the sheer joy of it, the extra income, the ability to prove you can actually do it (and yes, you can), and the chance to express yourself in a confusing, complicated world, in ways you might not otherwise be able to.