Sometimes I get impatient with the kind of novel where you have to follow what seems like a bazillion characters and their disparate storylines, until those stories finally come together at the end. This one, however, kept me engaged from the beginning, because each storyline was populated with realistically interesting and flawed characters, and I was genuinely curious to discover how their stories would all resolve. Admittedly, it did seem to rely on a lot of convenient coincidences, but most novels do.
This was a story of relationships, choices, and the consequences of allowing pride, unconscious prejudice, and assumptions to drive decisions. I enjoyed it very much.
Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. Caroline Lee does her usual outstanding job of giving voice to a cast of characters.
It's amazing that, before the first chapter is even up, Moriarty has drawn her characters with such humanity and realism that I feel more connected to them, more interested in them, than for Grisham's characters throughout his entire book.
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.
A while back, a co-worker and I were discussing our shared love of Gillian Flynn. After having read/listened to Gone Girl, I quickly tore through Flynn's other books. My co-worker suggested that if I enjoyed Gillian Flynn, I'd probably also enjoy reading Liane Moriarty's novels. "Liane Moriarty? Great, I'll have to seek out her books!" I said and meant this, but then I got busy and forgot. This process repeated itself a couple more times, and then just recently, I was browsing available audiobooks on my library's e-collection website--and stumbled across The Husband's Secret. I downloaded it, transferred it to my mp3 player, and quickly got hooked. Soon after, I decided to seek out the print version to supplement my listening. Only then did I pay attention to the author's name and... "Oh, hey--is Liane Moriarty the author you've been recommending to me?" "Yup."
The book begins with a short re-telling of the myth of Pandora--pointedly correcting misconceptions by specifying that she was given a jar, not a box, and that it came with absolutely no warnings about the dangers of opening it. One of the main characters, Cecilia Fitzpatrick, faces a Pandora's jar of her own. While searching in the attic for a small piece of the Berlin Wall--for her daughter Esther who has become obsessed with learning all about it--she stumbles across a sealed envelope, which falls out of one of the shoeboxes her husband John-Paul uses to store receipts. The letter is marked: "For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick. To be opened in the event of my death."
Thus begins the story. The action mostly takes place in Sidney, Australia, in a tight-knit community of people with connections to the Catholic School St. Angela's. Cecilia is the school's premiere "school mum," along with being a highly successful Tupperware distributor and mother of three lovely daughters: Isabel, Esther, and Polly (yup--there is a "Polly" AND an "Esther" in the family). Rachel Crowley is the school's part-time secretary. Rachel's adult son has announced that his wife Lauren has accepted a two-year job assignment in New York City, and that will mean two years without Jacob, the young grandson Rachel cares for two days a week. With that change imminent, Rachel finds herself newly obsessed with her late daughter Janey, whose murder back in April of 1984, the month before she would have been 18, has never been solved. Tess O'Leary has impulsively brought her six-year-old son Liam with her from Melbourne, with the excuse of looking after her mother Mary, who has broken her ankle. She makes this decision after the confession of her husband Will and cousin Felicity that they've fallen in love and feel the need to pursue a relationship. Tess enrolls Liam at St. Angela's, and the lives of Cecilia, Rachel, and Tess become entwined.
Cecilia, Rachel, and Tess are the primary narrative points of view, although there are some others interspersed, including occasional moments where an omniscient narrator shares things none of the characters could know. This omniscient narrator appears in a mind-blowing epilogue that I won't spoil--just expect your brain to go "BOOM!" The secret in the letter (of course Cecilia opens and reads it!) creates serious dilemmas. But I won't give this book's secrets away. Just read it--you'll be glad you did.