Truly, Madly, Guilty, Liane Moriarty, author, Caroline Lee, narrator
When three couples gather for a barbecue at the home of Vid and Tiffany, they set forth a course of events which will change the arc of all their lives. Two of the couples are close friends and two are simply neighbors. Vid is a very outspoken electrician from Slovenia who exudes warmth and friendliness. Whatever is on his mind pops out without warning and is often a little shocking. Tactfulness is not one of his attributes. Tiffany worked her way through school as an “exotic” dancer, but is now a successful realtor, flipping houses. She is a colorful dresser and is quite alluring. She worries about their only child Dakota’s well being, almost constantly. Dakota is a 10-year old bookish and quiet young girl, who did not inherit her mother’s flamboyance or her dad’s outgoing personality.
One of Vid and Tiffany’s neighbors is Harry, an angry and lonely old man who spends his days watching and monitoring the behavior of those around him and then complaining about it. Their neighbor on the other side is a quiet, orderly couple, Erika and Oliver, a pair of very hard working accountants who are childless and have bland personalities. They both grew up in chaotic households. Erika’s mother Sylvia had, and still does have, emotional issues. She is a hoarder of monumental proportions and Erika, as an adult, must limit the time she spends with her, but she must also attend to the cleaning of the house and the property on a regular basis before the detritus of her mother’s hoarding takes over not only the house, but also the yard. It has caused problems with the neighbors. Because of Sylvia’s illness, Erika’s surrogate mother during her early years was, Pam, the mother of her best and only friend, Clementine. Pam arranged the friendship between the two girls by insisting that Clementine befriend the lonely, Erika. Although Pam is judgmental and demanding, she is also a kind and caring, devoted mother. Clementine is a professional cellist who has two young children, Holly and Ruby. Her husband Sam believes that he is the more responsible parent. Both Clementine and Erika have relationship issues to deal with concerning their mothers. Oliver, Erika’s husband, grew up in a house with alcoholic parents so his childhood was rife with problems also. His parents often went on the wagon but quickly fell off again. Erika and Oliver are well suited to each other because they know how to live with adversity having been forced to learn to cope with parents who were unfit to parent.
When Vid spontaneously asks Erika to come to his house for a barbecue, he also asks her to bring her friend Clementine. He had heard her play, and he loved her music. Erika said yes. She didn’t want to insult Vid by refusing to go even though she knew that Oliver would not enjoy going there. She thought Clementine and Sam’s presence would be helpful. Oliver was a creature of habit, and the barbecue was going to upset the plans he already had. As all of the guests gather together at the barbecue, somewhat reluctantly, for what will become a seminal moment in each of their lives, their baggage from their former and current lives goes with them as well. The atmosphere, liquor and early stage of the couple’s relationships, makes each of the characters behave a bit out of character that day, trying to impress each other by drinking too much, flirting too much and forgetting their adult responsibilities. Each of these characters will have to suffer the consequences of that day in their own way when one of the children almost drowns in a large, decorative fountain on the property.
So many social issues were explored: parenting, alcoholism, hoarding, compulsive/obsessive behavior, PTSD, emergency reactions and the need to know CPR, guilt, the idea of what makes something an accident and what makes it negligence, the obligations of friendship, the value of communication and sharing, the need for space and privacy, and how to deal with and face life with all of its frailties and foibles, responsibly. The day of the barbecue was the catalyst for the changing patterns of their lives and the concomitant issues they were forced to confront as secrets from their past were revealed and cracks in their relationships were exposed.
The author did a great job of drawing me right into the story as the parent/child dynamic was examined and explored in great detail on many different levels. My favorite character was the outspoken Vid who said what was on his mind and enjoyed being with and entertaining guests. He was the quintessential friendly neighbor. He didn’t aspire to be anything more than what he was, which was a simple, rather humble, successful electrician who was devoid of guile. He was simply real, said what was on his mind and did what moved him at any given moment. I also adored the child Holly who often conducted herself like a little adult and wound up having to deal with the effects of guilt along with all of the other characters. Her quirky personality traits, however, were delightful. I didn’t care for Sylvia, Erika’s mother, because although she was often amusing, she often acted with malicious intent.
As the author exploited the flaws in each character, the narrator chose just the right tone and emphasis to make that character come to life. She was inside the head of each character with an authentic portrayal of their personalities. I am sure that my feelings about several of the characters had to be due to her excellent characterization of them. She caught the nuances of their individuality and the cadence of their voices. All of the characters were flawed in some way and all had to deal with those flaws in the end. Addressing flaws, there was one flaw for me in the book and that was that all of the loose ends were tied up almost too neatly, almost like a fairytale. Still, there was plausibility in the tale which I thought was executed well by both the author and the narrator.