Parents Putting on Airs: It’s All Big Little Lies

Originally published July 2014

Elementary school, helicopter parents and someone gets killed at the PTA fundraiser?

I’m in.

Author Liane Moriarty has already seen huge success with books like What Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret. But this? Delving into the world of the bossy, busybody moms of 5-year-olds, all the while acting like terrorists operating under the guise of being helpful? It’s a single sitting kind of read.

Big Little Lies, out July 29, features the moms of Pirriwee Public School—three, in particular: Madeline, Celeste and Jane. Madeline is the hub—newly 40, divorced and remarried and sharing a kindergarten school year with her ex-husband, his wife, and their child in the same class as hers. Celeste is THAT mom—the one that has it all, and is drop dead gorgeous, to boot. Jane is the new mom—seemingly too young to have a child, let alone one in school, and just trying to fit in.

The plot? Muuuuuurderrrrrrr. The evening of the school’s fundraising Trivia Night, a scream rings out. Readers are then treated to a months-long buildup to the night in question, interspersed with commentary from other parents. I had to will myself not to skip to the end to see who bites it and why.

Is it Madeline, who relishes stirring the pot when she sees other parents acting like asshats? Does it have to do with her growing frustration parenting her 14-year-old daughter from her marriage with Nathan, who is now married to Bonnie and has decided he finally wants to act like a dad? (It can’t be her husband Ed — he is awesome sauce.)

Is it Celeste, the wonder woman who is spending more time trying to hide a horrible family secret? Seriously, though, raising wild twin boys would probably make the best mom want to go stabby once in a while, especially when the hubby that everyone thinks is perfect is constantly on the road.

Or is it Jane, single mom to 5-year-old Ziggy, the new kid and instant pariah on the playground? Could he have inherited some of his “It was a one-night-stand” father’s nasty characteristics?

There are others at play, namely, Renata, the anti-bullying zealot insistent on making a point when her daughter is the victim, or Harper, aptly named because … girl is a shrew. Or is it poor Miss Barnes, the kindergarten teacher who spills her guts about the horrors of teaching when she has a little too much to drink on Trivia Night (Teacher friends, you will laugh and laugh and laugh)?

Big Little Lies is instantly engaging—juicy gossipy fun. The kind of book you’ll be telling your friends to read. That said, Moriarty weaves in serious narrative, as well. Madeline’s struggle with her daughter Abagail is real and painful. Celeste’s domestic situation (I can’t say more as I will spoil it for you) is also tough stuff, and although I haven’t lived it, I suspect a valid portrait of the experience.

You know why it’s so enjoyable. Because if you are a parent of a kid of any age, then you KNOW these people. Shoot, I still laugh when I think of the some of the well-intentioned crazies I’ve worked with in the past. And I’ve felt the sting of watching one of my kids be rejected. I’ve lived the pink envelope incident. It sucks. So maybe I got just a little extra enjoyment out of Renata’s come-uppance. Words of advice? Never hire a hot young French nanny.

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