Study Guide

Big Little Lies Family

By Liane Moriarty

Family

Mothers took their mothering so seriously now. Their frantic little faces. Their busy little bottoms strutting into the school in their tight gym gear. Ponytails swinging. Eyes fixed on the mobile phones held in the palms of their hands like compasses. It made Mrs. Ponder laugh. Fondly though. Her three daughters, although older, were exactly the same. And they were all so pretty. (1.10)

Mrs. Ponder has a bit of the "back in the good ol' days" attitude about modern families. She thinks moms should chill out a bit more, and worry less about their children being perfect, protected, and precocious.

Madeline had told her children that if they were naughty, Santa Claus might leave them a wrapped-up potato, and they would always wonder what the wonderful gift was that the potato replaced. It was Chloe’s dearest wish for Christmas that her brother would receive a potato. It would probably please her more than the dollhouse under the tree. Madeline had seriously considered wrapping up potatoes for both of them. It would be such an incentive for good behavior throughout the next year. “Remember the potato,” she could say. But Ed wouldn’t let her. He was too damned nice. (8.3)

Madeline has a sense of humor about parenting…and that sense of humor can veer towards being mean. Luckily, her husband Ed balances her out with his mellowness and patience.

Jane’s mother believed Ziggy was her own beloved father, reincarnated. Or she pretended to believe this, anyway. Nobody could really tell how serious she was. Poppy had died six months before Ziggy was born, right when Jane’s mother had been halfway through reading a book about a little boy who was supposedly a reincarnated World War II fighter pilot. The idea that her grandson might actually be her dad had gotten stuck in her head. It had helped with her grieving. (10.7)

Jane has some very sweet parents, but we have to admit they're a wee bit eccentric. Especially Jane's mom, who believes that her grandkiddo is actually her reincarnated dad. But this just goes to show how strong family bonds can be, and how debilitating it is losing a family member.

Melissa: I remember I saw Celeste and Perry and the twins down on the beach during the school holidays. I said to my husband, “I think that’s one of the new kindergarten mums.” His eyes nearly popped out of his head. Celeste and Perry were all loving and laughing and helping their kids make this really elaborate sand castle. It was kind of sickening, to be honest. Like, even their sand castles were better than ours. (11.13)

The parents of Pirriwee are a little bit jealous of the gorgeous, rich Whites. They seem to have it all, including undiminished sexual chemistry and…mad sandcastle skills. But something very dark lurks under this shiny exterior.

"Skye is sort of like my sister, isn’t she, Mummy?” said Chloe now. Unlike her mother, she’d been thrilled to learn she was going to be in the same kindergarten class as Skye, and she’d asked this question about forty thousand times.

“No, Skye is Abigail’s half sister,” said Madeline with saint-like patience.

“But I’m Abigail’s sister too!” said Chloe. “So that means Skye and I must be sisters! We could be twins, like Josh and Max!” (12.5-7)

Madeline's family is blended, and figuring out everyone's relationship to one another can be a little bit complicated. Especially because Madeline has a bee in her bonnet about Bonnie and Nathan and does not want their kid referred to as Chloe's sister.

There wasn’t anything all that special about this house. It was similar to Jane’s family home, although Jane’s home was smaller and tidier, and they were an hour’s drive from the beach, so there wasn’t all the evidence of the beach activities, but it had the same casual, simple, suburban feel.

This was childhood. (15.5)

Jane feels envious of Madeline's home which, while nothing special, screams a family lives here. With its overgrown yards, towels on the porch, and profusion of clutter, it's a very different place from Jane's austere apartment. If only she knew that both Madeline and Celeste envied her for her Marie Kondo-style minimalism…

“I always thought that Nathan’s punishment for walking out on us would be that Abigail wouldn’t love him the way she loved me,” she said to Ed. (16.18)

Poor Madeline. Her daughter Abigail is infatuated with life at her dad's house and wants to live there instead of with Madeline. This is especially painful since Nathan abandoned Madeline and baby Abigail in order to go be a Bali beach bum.

“Other people’s problems always seemed so surmountable, and other people’s children so much more biddable, thought Madeline as Ziggy trotted off. While Jane collected the family photos, Madeline looked around Jane’s small, neat apartment, reminded of the one-bedroom apartment she and Abigail used to share. (30.2)

Madeline's life as a single mom was hard, but now that Abigail wants to live with her dad, Madeline is remembering it with rose-colored glasses. She forgets the heartbreak and hard work and only dwells on the intimacy and connection she had with her daughter.

The boys had always been her reason to stay, but now for the first time they were her reason to leave. (71.24)

There's no more powerful force in these women's lives than their kids. Now that Celeste has seen that Perry's violence has imprinted on Max, she's finally resolved to leave him for good.

How could she possibly explain to Ed that she didn’t particularly like Bonnie, or understand her, but that it turned out she was prepared to lie for her in the same way that she would automatically lie for Ed, her children, her mother? It turned out, as strange and improbable as it seemed, that Bonnie was family too. (78.40)

When Madeline finally gets a glimpse of the real Bonnie—the fierce fighter that lurks behind a carefully constructed veneer of Zen-like calm—she finally accepts her as part of the family. And that's good, because Bonnie's here to stay.

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