At first I thought I was reading a fluffy chick lit book, then I thought I was reading an orgy book, then I realized I was reading a book by the sister of one of my favorite teen authors, then I thought I was reading a dead kid book, then finally I realized I was reading a not-so-fluffy chick lit book with a little depth. Truly Madly Guilty is a truly mad roller coaster of a novel.
Clementine and Erika are childhood best friends, and something very terrible has happened to shake up their already fragile relationship. We learn it has something to do with a barbecue they all attended at Erika and her husband Oliver’s neighbors’ house, and the story goes back and forth between the present and The Day of the Barbecue every other chapter, allowing the reader to piece together what happened centimeter by centimeter. (Seriously, the piecing together happens veerrryyyy slowly). I thought it was a fluffy chick lit book because the back cover description makes it sound like a couple of couples have a wild and funny party (kind of like Sleeping Arrangements), and then I thought it was an orgy book because the characters keep alluding to some unspeakable thing that happened at this barbecue that they never want to talk about again, and my sick mind jumped to the conclusion that they all got wasted and slept together. Turns out I was wrong.
My assumption after the orgy was that someone got hurt, or even killed (like, I Know What You Did Last Summer-style). Turns out that assumption was closer to the truth — more than halfway through the story, we learn that all the adults (Erika, Oliver, Clementine, her husband Sam, and the neighbors Tiffany and Vid) were a little too drunk and not paying attention to Clementine and Sam’s two children playing in the backyard, when the younger one fell into the fountain and drowned. Her parents could do nothing while Erika and Oliver, who had been secretly trying to get pregnant for two years and adored the kids as if they were their own, were the ones who pulled young Ruby out of the fountain and gave her CPR while Tiffany and Vid called for the ambulance.
It’s this horrifying incident that has sent all six adults into a complete tailspin for months — Clementine and Sam’s marriage is on the brink of divorce, both of them blaming themselves and the other for almost losing their daughter (SPOILER ALERT she doesn’t actually die); Erika and Oliver struggle with how to move forward in terms of having a child together; Clementine and Erika are angrier than ever at one another for reasons that have existed and multiplied since they were children. You see, Erika’s mother is a severely mentally ill hoarder, and Clementine’s family essentially took her in and treated her like one of their own, which Clementine has resented all her life. Just before the incident with the fountain, Erika and Oliver tell Clementine and Sam about their difficulty getting pregnant and ask Clementine if she would consider donating her eggs to Erika. This “repulses” Clementine, which Erika overhears her saying to Sam just before Erika goes ahead and saves Clementine’s youngest daughter’s life. Talk about a complicated friendship, eh?
The story itself is pretty upsetting, especially when you discover exactly how Erika realizes the kid is in the fountain (I won’t give away THAT spoiler), but the way Moriarty juxtaposes past and present makes you not want to put the book down. I was absolutely dying to know what happened at that damn barbecue and why they all hated each other so much for it, and when I finally did find out, I was still absolutely dying to know how they could ever recover. Now that’s good writing.