While this novel is really for the chick-lit crowd, unanimous rave reviews convinced me to read it, and I found myself getting caught up in the intriguing expose of Moriarty’s suburban confessional. Transporting us to North Sydney’s world of Tupperware, sunny play dates, beaches and guilt, Moriarty unfolds a story about the complicated nature of relationships and the culmination of a deep, dark secret in a jaw-dropping revelation for Cecilia Fitzpatrick in the small, crammed attic of her lovely home.
As school mum and part time Tupperware consultant, Cecelia’s life isn’t that unusual or impressive, and she’s never inspired to do anything “other than ordinariness.” She’s just the typical overwhelmed mum whose husband, John-Paul, is always away overseas on business, leaving her at home to cope with the daily needs of her three growing daughters.
Moriarty builds an of an underlying sense of fragility into Cecelia’s existence and an understanding that a “life of coriander and laundry” can be stolen in an instant. Picked up and swept along by the fast-running current of her life, Cecilia is unprepared for the whirlpool of impossibility contained in the white business envelope put randomly in a shoebox with a note on the front from her husband that it is only to be opened in the event of his death.
Much of the suspense and anxiety of the book is built around the fallout from the letter and the efforts of Melbournian Tess O’Leary to rebuild her life in Sydney after her marriage to Will is hijacked by her cousin, green-eyed Felicity. At first sweet and sexy star-crossed lovers, Tess hopes that once “the fog of lust” clears, Will can see that he’s made a terrible mistake. Tess flies to Sydney with her son, Liam, to stay with her mum. She will meet Cecilia and become intertwined with the tragic figure of Rachel Crowley, almost disfigured by the terrible thing that happened to her daughter Janie one disastrous day in 1984.
Adding to the dramatic revelation from the letter, the novel ties Cecilia, Tess and Rachel’s unresolved issues together. As Celia’s life turns into a series of complicated lies (“a proper black lie sliding as easily from her lips”), Tess reconnects with old school friend Conor Whitby, whom Rachel is convinced killed Janie. With revenge “burning all over her as if she had a fever,” the need to confront Conor heightens Rachel’s dizzying grief, fury and hatred. Oblivious to what really happened that day twenty-six years ago, Rachel has become isolated from her narcissistic daughter in-law and overly protective of her grandson and her son, and she is enraged when they choose a life in New York over loyalty to her.
The reader enters every crevice of the minds of these three women as Tess and Cecelia examine their marriages, saddened by the self-indulgence of those around them who refuse to see what is important in life. They reflect at length over their longing for freedom, for a life without a spouse, a life not dictated by the whims, joys, petty angers and obsessions of another. Even Rachel, who clearly loves her grandson, has no idea that her life could be so flimsily constructed--“like a stack of cards.”
The novel is damaged a bit by over-the-top melodrama in the final chapters, and a convergent plot twist skirts the bounds of credulity. Yet Moriarty shows that behind the mask of lovely, suburban homes, good Catholic schools and manicured lawns lies something uglier, something tawdry, something far deeper and more horrible than ruminating over the latest purchases and who's driving the newest car.