It can seem as though the world these days is measured in Big Little Lies moments. The first season premiere, the first season finale, the agonizing wait for news of a second season, the Emmy wins, the Golden Globe wins, the second season announcement, the agonizing wait until television audiences are treated to 50 minutes of Meryl Streep every week.
But this structure, while wholly natural given the deliciousness of the lives of the mothers of Monterey and the gravitational pull of one Reese Witherspoon, ignores a very important fact: that Big Little Lies started out as a book. And not only that, but there are other ways, literature-wise, to satisfy the taste for rich-people drama. There are, of course, the full collection of Liane Moriarty books, several of which will be coming to a screen near you courtesy of Ms. Witherspoon. But for this month’s express purpose, we look to the brand-new tome Mrs., out Tuesday.
The novel, written by Caitlin Macy, a New York City-based author who has penned several books about the mind-boggling machinations of the upper classes, is the latest in a genre we’ll call Playground Chic. It follows the parents at St. Timothy’s, an exclusive elementary school on the Upper East Side that seems to attract a delightful mix of hilariously overbred finance snobs and seemingly fancy folk with dark pasts. Each chapter is devoted to a different member of the St. Tim’s community: a few stay-at-home mothers, a few long-suffering fathers, and one very precocious child caught in the middle of everything.
This may sound like a collection of Manhattan stereotypes, but fear not, as there are unexpected turns of character that keep the main players from falling into the expected categories (no spoilers here!). It may also sound like a rinse-and-repeat of Big Little Lies, but there are some marked differences. There is no central crime here, no highly dramatized murder to be solved, but instead the reader will slowly realize that many of these pedigreed Upper East Siders have some very valuable secrets. There are similarities, of course, like the not-so-coincidental interconnectedness of all the parents and some highly entertaining brats. If you found yourself paging through Lies with a fervor, you’ll likely do the same with Mrs.
Each and every one of BLL’s readers (or viewers) found themselves squarely on the side of one or the other characters (Team Renata!), and it’s easy to draw comparisons to the women (and men) you’ll love (and hate) at St. Tim’s.
If you love Madeline Mackenzie
You’ll like Philippa Lye & Gwen Hogan
Madeline is the main character and narrator of BLL, so for all her idiosyncrasies (and there are many!), you automatically connect with her and take her side in her (again, many!) grudges. Gwen Hogan is as close as Mrs. gets to a main narrator — she’s a chemist-turned-stay-at-home-mom who’s sending her only daughter to the private school as a result of financial aid. Her husband is a prosecutor whose beat just so happens to be white-collar crime and the SEC, which comes to be quite critical later in the story. Gwen certainly doesn’t have as many, er, quirks, as our beloved Madeline, but she exudes the same sense of being the only (occasionally) sane person in a pack of otherwise crazies.
Consider Philippa Lye the yin to Gwen’s yang — and the one with the Maddie-style quirks you’ve been yearning for. A former model, she is the constant envy of women, from her fellow paralegals at her mid-20s job to her fellow mothers at St. Tim’s. She attracts attention for her looks and consternation for her idiosyncrasies. Also, she likes the mom juice, if you know what we mean.
If you love Renata Klein
You’ll like Heather Baird & Jeannie Haskell
Just like Big Little Lies, Mrs. includes a few hardworking career moms for levity and their very necessary commentary on their fellow parents. While Renata occasionally seemed a bit … frayed, she was also a breath of fresh air in the interpersonal drama department. Heather and Jeannie may not have Renata’s unending chic-ness (or her high-waisted jeans), but most of that is owed to Laura Dern’s on-screen portrayal. What Heather and Jeannie do have is hilarious zingers directed at all the book’s major players, and a reminder that not everybody on the Upper East Side arrives there via silver spoon — some of them actually have to work for it.
If you love Celeste Wright
You’ll like Philippa Lye
Perfection on the outside, darkness on the inside. Celeste’s secret was one of the driving dramas of BLL, as much for its mystery as her ability to hide what was really going on. Philippa’s life story is certainly less dire than the domestic abuse that was plaguing Celeste and Perry’s marriage, but it is serious nonetheless. She arrived in the world of Manhattan townhomes and private schools by marrying one of the wealthiest bank scions left after the crash, and her every move seems designed to cover up whatever it was she was doing before she got there. We can’t tell you much without giving things away, but just remember that what you see with Philippa is not what you get.
If you love Jane Chapman
You’ll like Minnie Curtis & Gwen Hogan
Some readers were drawn to Jane because of her innocence and relative naiveté, and that group will be Gwen Hogan’s No. 1 fans. She eschews almost everything about the Upper East Side, starting with the geography — her family still lives in a “starter apartment” (a term that can truly only be used among this group) in Yorkville (read: outside the boundaries of exclusivity) — and extending to her refusal to hire help, dress up, or even to do her hair. Fight the power, Gwen Hogan.
Other readers were drawn to Jane because of her air of mystery, her arrival to the first day of school carrying her checkered past with her, and that group will be Minnie Curtis’ No. 1 fans. Minnie is married to a thuggish investor who seems to have bullied their way into joining St. Tim’s mid-semester, and to say she doesn’t carry the typical pedigree of the UES would be an understatement.
If you love Bonnie Carlson
You’ll like Sally Skinker
Bonnie Carlson is a total Rorschach test: If you admire her calming presence, her dedication to wellness, and her willingness to get involved with Nathan and Madeline’s craziness, then you’re probably a very centered person. If she drives you F-ing crazy, well, you’re probably more of a Madeline.
For those firmly in the first camp, find a friend in Sally Skinker, sister-in-law to one Philippa Lye and all-around totally selfless person. She’s a minister, for one, and she owns a charity and runs a foundation and does all sorts of Good Works. She also exercises extreme patience for all her family members, like the aforementioned Philippa and her husband, Jed, who is the long-suffering head of the family bank and comes loaded with tons of emotional baggage. Sally keeps them all together — or at least she tries.
If you love Ed Mackenzie
You’ll like Jed Skinker & Dan Hogan
All hail the Totally Decent Husband Who Kind of Gets the Crappy End of the Stick. Ed Mackenzie was so nice, so understanding, so level-headed that you often found yourself just kind of smiling to yourself and wanting to give him a big hug. There’s no one quite as innocent as Ed in the world of Mrs. — they all have something brewing underneath the surface — but fans of Ed will find plenty to appreciate in Jed, who dutifully keeps his family bank running all while attempting to manage his wife Philippa’s many struggles, and Dan, who fights the good fight in the DA’s office daily.
If you love Chloe Mackenzie
You’ll like Laura Skinker
Precocious is an understatement for these two tykes. Chloe was wise beyond her years, deftly commenting on her mother’s many dramas and keeping everyone in the Mackenzie family in check, whether it be their sheisty attitudes or their poor musical tastes. Laura is just as perceptive: She understands far more about her mother’s problems and her father’s stress than anyone gives her credit for, and her adorable takes on everything the family is going through will make you want to laugh and give her a giant squeeze all at the same time.
If you hate Perry Wright
You’ll hate John Curtis
Dramatic private-school novels wouldn’t be what they are without a true Villain-with-a-capital-V. Big Little Lies had Perry Wright, who grew darker and more terrifying with every disturbing revelation. Mrs. has John Curtis, a smarmy, overly-hair-gelled investor desperate to claw his way into high society, no matter which insider-trading laws he has to break or how many charity boards he has to force his wife, Minnie, to join. His plot line certainly keeps things interesting, but you’ll also want to end any of his chapters with good long body scrub.