By Liane Moriarty
Going OFF-GRID for a little while! I’m dancing daffodils 21 Dog Champagne to end Czechoslovakia! Spangle Moot! Love, Mum.’ Heart emoji. Butterfly emoji. Flower emoji. Smiley face emoji. ‘Off-grid’ was in capitals.” The beauty therapist’s mother used a lot of emojis in her texts too. Mothers loved emojis. She wondered what all that “dancing daffodils” stuff could possibly mean.
Moriarty once again has written an engrossing exploration of a dramatic family dynamic. I guess every family has its dark undercurrents, resentments, secrets, and challenges, but this is a family whose potential for both everyday and cataclysmic blow-ups is turned up more than a notch. First of all, although affluent and successful, they are a family of former athletes that never quite attained their dreams. The father, Stan, is a successful local tennis coach who had the potential for worldwide fame and greatness. The mother, Joy, gave up her own tennis career to raise 4 challenging kids and build the family business. As energetic and loving as she is she has had her plate more than full throughout her whole life. Like so many wives and mothers of her time, she feels cheated and unappreciated.
When the children were little they always called it “Daddy’s office” even though Joy was the one who handled all the business of the business. Yet they all had to maintain the pretense that because Stan was the man, whatever he was doing was automatically more important and deserved priority over any contribution from the little lady. Well, fuck you, Stan.
And then there’s the 4 kids: Amy, the oldest, who has all kinds of mental health disorders. Pick one. Logan, rather ordinary and scruffy, just broke up with his universally adored girlfriend, Indira, and is confused and miserable. Troy, a wealthy trader, and reformed drug dealer is now divorced from his lovely wife whom he cheated on. And Brooke, outwardly stable, has suffered from debilitating migraines since childhood. She too is divorced and trying, so far unsuccessfully, to start her own physical therapy practice.
Yes, Amy had her mental health challenges, but she was as tough as nails at her core; Logan pretended not to care about anything but cared about everything; Troy acted so superior because he felt so inferior; and Brooke liked to present herself as the most grown-up of them all, but sometimes Joy caught the fleeting expression of a frightened child crossing her face.
Things come to a head when a stranger knocks on Stan and Joy’s door seeking shelter and doesn’t leave. She worms her way into their affections and they become almost dependent upon her. Their kids are bewildered, worried, and start investigating. What’s her scam? When her lies and motives are exposed, she leaves, leaving seeds of destruction behind her. Some months later Joy disappears without a trace except for a perplexing text message to her children. Unbelievably, It starts to look to the police, his children, and the reader that her loving but complex husband of 50 years might have murdered her.
The build-up is slow but fascinating as we get to know each member of the family. I alternatively sympathized then despised then liked them again all at many points in the novel. That is a measure of Liane Moriarty’s talent and skill in constructing her characters. And we are mystified by Savannah. Who is she really and what is she up to? Things really start to pop shortly after the halfway point and the revelations come fast and furious.
In my experience, Lianne Moriarty really knows how to end a book. All is revealed and tied up in a very satisfying conclusion with happy endings, beginnings, and hope for all of the Delaney family.
Nico said there were good floorboards waiting beneath the vile carpet in the house they’d just bought. Amazing to think something beautiful could lie beneath the ugliness and all you had to do was peel it away.
Then we get a shock of a second bonus ending which I read with simultaneous horror and guilty amusement.
October 5, 2021