It's not a thriller.
Imagine that line as spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger to his class in Kindergarten Cop. I start here because I saw a review saying what a disappointing thriller it was, and it would be disappointing if that was what Moriarty were shooting for. It's also not a romance, or a mystery, or a literary novel, although it does share some elements with those.
What it is is a book about regular middle class suburban couples who experience a trauma together, and how it affects their lives thereafter. It's not a big trauma, it's not newsworthy, but it affects them all, and their little kids, too. And because the author takes her work seriously, there is much more to it than just that, humor, and backstory, and a way through, and a future.
I love books like this about living in after some bad thing. Fairy tales are important because they teach us that the witch or the monster can be killed, these books (and I hope someone has a short, catchy name for the genre that isn't sexist, because I sure don't) these books demonstrate how to live through the bad things and still have a good life. I don't believe stories about people living through horrible events and being stoic and saintly and a good example. Pain doesn't make people stronger or better, it makes us angry, and short-tempered, and hell to get along with. And of course, we all have pain and most of it is garden-variety common and of no interest to others. And the older we get the more time we spend attending funerals, the more people we have to lose. These books remind us that we can still laugh at the wake, that there are many ways to comfort one another in our loss.
I'm on my way to a funeral soon
The mystery is what happened to Alice's marriage. Alice, suffering from a concussion and subsequent amnesia is the one trying to figure out who she is and how it went wrong. Another marvelous book full of kids and after school activities and how destructive it is for a marriage when gender roles make one person the breadwinner and one person the parent. And yes, it is also very white and heteronormative and upper middle class suburban, but again, Moriarty takes seriously the business of having and rearing children, and that is important. Plus now I basically see Reese Witherspoon playing the lead role in every one of the books and I like Reese Witherspoon, so that's okay.
I only have one Moriarty book left to read, and then I am going to be very sad for a while.
I hope I've learned my lesson: don't start a Moriarty book unless I have plenty of time to finish it, because I can not put it down to go to sleep. Knowing I have to get up and go to work the next morning is not nearly sufficient to stop me reading just one more chapter, again and again until it 's all done.
The only bad thing I can say about it is that she focuses on white urban professionals. Yeah, that's attractive to many readers, 'm sure. And she is fabulous at depicting family life in a way that's realistic and not sentimental or smarmy. She can make a minor school event into high drama and a successful Tupperware saleswoman into a canny titan of industry.
And also, I suspect that these are all books I'm going to enjoy rereading, but it isn't as if characterization or setting or tone are sacrificed in favor of narrative drive. The plot zips along because the reader has become emotionally invested in these people, all of them.
Edited later the same evening to add:
Okay, I figured out one thing Moriarty does that makes her so appealing. She respects the work that women do. All of it. Not just the creative or professional careers, but also the glamour -free jobs, the volunteer work of PTAs, the emotional work of looking after family, the shitwork of buying groceries, and planning meals. All of it. That's so rare. Even the assholes who are instigating Mommy Wars don't really respect all of it: regardless of their agenda, they only respect the work of privileged women, whether it's as a CEO or as the stay-at-home mom fixing organic Vento boxes with loving notes. President of a tech start-up good, president of the PTA is just a joke usually. Women in Moriarty 's world can be wrong, prejudiced, or thoughtless, but they are all respected.