Someone has been killed at a themed, costumed, school trivia night. There should be multiple witnesses, yet all claim to have not seen. Speculation abounds. Perhaps it was the alcohol in the punch that night, much more potent than it should have been. Perhaps tempers were running high due to the bullying in the kindergarten class. Perhaps it was the head lice that got everyone all riled up, or the French nanny, or the full moon. Certainly someone did it, and no one is talking.
Meet the community on Pirriwee Peninsula. It has all the suburban quirks you’d expect. There are the stay at home moms vs the working moms. The poor and the rich. The PTA parents complete with groupies. The gifted kids and the normal kids. And past all that, there are the secrets. Domestic abuse. Sexual assault. Bullies and affairs and lots of pointing fingers. (Trigger warnings for anyone who can’t read about those sorts of things!)
The story is told in flashback, going back about six months from the night of the Incident. Primary narrative focus is on three women: Madeline, a drama-loving woman sharing custody with her ex-husband, who also lives on the Peninsula with his new family; Celeste, gorgeous and rich at the same time that she’s spacey and jumpy; and Jane, single young mom new to this area with a lot of skeletons in her closet. Madeline and Celeste are already friends, and they draw Jane into their circle on the day of kindergarten orientation. Unfortunately, a bullying incident occurs during orientation, and a line is drawn in the sand, parents taking sides in a frisson that only grows more powerful over time.
This is the sort of story that tackles a lot of really important issues, placing them in and around the ridiculous squabbling of schoolyard parents. There’s humor in it, and also a lot of discomfort. Moriarty makes a very definite point of taking subjects like domestic abuse and sexual assault and exploring the grey areas that tend to blur the psychology of the whole situation. I can’t say more without going into spoiler territory, but I wanted to include a quote from a therapist character:
Domestic violence victims often don’t look at all like you’d expect them to look. And their stories don’t always sound as black-and-white as you’d expect them to sound.
The book also explores the psychology of women in today’s society, and what society expects from them. Another quote that really struck me:
That’s my point. What if I was a bit overweight and not especially pretty? Why is that so terrible? So disgusting? Why is that the end of the world? It’s because a woman’s entire self-worth rests on her looks. That’s why. It’s because we live in a beauty-obsessed society where the most important thing a woman can do is make herself attractive to men.
There’s more than that, but again, it would go into spoiler territory.
I really loved this book. I worried in the beginning that it would be too suburban-squabble for me, and there certainly are a lot of stereotypes played up here, but those just ended up being a vehicle for deeper issues. And I admit, I love the way it ended. It was probably too neat or whatever, but I just loved it. I definitely need to read more from this author.