I did not want to like this book. I really did not want to like this book.
When the TV series aired on HBO, I saw the commercial previews and promptly put the whole spectacle in a mental recycle bin labeled Bachelorette / Kardashian. I figured it would be pretty, pink, vacuous, and reinforce stereotypes about race, class, and gender that I wanted to neither encourage nor engage with.
At some point, however, I heard the book referred to as one of the great feminist stories of our time. A tale that could hold up and reflect the ideals of the #metoo movement. This intrigued me, and I decided to see if Lane Moriarty moved past Sophie Kinsella territory and invited intersectional feminism to the conversation. Could this novel include commentary about the complexity of womanhood today? One that brought multiple voices and perspectives to the table?
“The whole purpose of intersectional feminism is to listen to different kinds of feminists – not just ones like yourself.”International Women’s Development Agency
At first, I felt my worst fears were confirmed. Not only were the main characters white, but they were also all rich as well. In fact, the only tension in character development seemed to be the strain between blue and white collar folks in the small coastal town where the novel is set (come to find out, the TV show is set in Monterey, California which is a stone’s throw from where I live in Santa Cruz). While this is a life situation I can identify with, I could not see how such a milquetoast tableau could support a tale about anything but white feminism.
But then the plot began to thicken like a good roux, darkening and deepening in complexity and flavor, and I was hooked.
To write more in detail would require spoilers, but the bottom line is that the near absence of race and class turns out to be crucial to the story. The narrative does eventually while weaving the plot threads together in the denouement, transcend the trappings of rich white society. As Kadia Blagrove wrote for Jezebel,
“But in the end, Big Little Lies did a great job of making unlikely characters feel familiar by using their enormous wealth and status as a simple backdrop, rather than a focal point, to their internal lives.”
By removing most class and race differences between the main characters, Moriarty shows that the terrible events of the story could happen to anyone. Not just rich or poor, white or brown, suburban or urban. ANYONE. That forceful point, combined with a suspenseful plot and original narrative style that draws the reader in and makes it hard to put the book down, made this a five star read for me.