Leah Greenblatt
July 29, 2016 at 03:04 PM EDT

Truly Madly Guilty

Current Status
In Season
Liane Moriarty
Flatiron Books
We gave it a B

Just as Punxsutawney Phil raising his furry little head on Groundhog Day announces the end of winter (or not), a new Liane Moriarty has come to signal summer in the book world. Though the blockbuster Australian novelist skipped last season, her 2014 phenomenon Big Little Lies and earlier entries like The Husband’s Secret and The Hypnotist’s Love Story have become such beloved beach-tote habitués that their jacket images of shattered flowers or shells or candy suckers are nearly synonymous now with smart, breezy, don’t-bother-Mommy-while-she’s-in-the-hammock reads. Truly Madly Guilty breaks Moriarty’s blow-up cover mold (and unlike the others, its swooping slash of water actually means something to the plot), but the narrative is still stacked with her signature themes: female friendship, duplicity, the darkness lurking beneath lucky, ordinary suburban lives.

She also loves to tease out a mystery, and it takes Truly nearly 300 pages to arrive at its relentlessly foreshadowed central event: an unnamed catastrophe at a barbecue that has sent its cast of characters spinning out of their emotional orbits. There are still many more pages to go before we find out who’s responsible. Is it golden couple Clementine and Sam or one of their two young daughters? Clementine’s tightly wound best friend, Erika, and her equally self-contained husband, Oliver? Their glamorous neighbors Vid and Tiffany, with all their new money and artless generosity? The book devotes so much energy to aftermath before reaching its big reveal that it begins to feel like a very special, very frustrating episode of CSI: BBQ. The last twist, though, is nearly worth the wait, and what sets Moriarty’s writing apart in the genre generally dismissed as chick lit has as much to do with her canny insights into human nature as her clever plotting. Finding out exactly why Erika controls every element of her life so carefully, or why her fraught relationship with Clementine has been off balance from the start, is ultimately more compelling than the events of a single disastrous afternoon. And for Moriarty’s many fans, that should be truly, madly good enough. B

OPENING LINES “ ‘This is a story that begins with a barbecue,’ said Clementine. The microphone amplified and smoothed her voice, making it more authoritative.…”

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