THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, FROM THE AUTHOR OF BIG LITTLE LIES, now an HBO series.
Winner of Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction
Entertainment Weekly's “Best Beach Bet”
A USA Today Hot Books for Summer Selection
A Miami Herald Summer Reads Pick
2017's 20 Most-Read Books on Goodreads
“Here’s the best news you’ve heard all year: Not a single page disappoints....The only difficulty with Truly Madly Guilty? Putting it down.” Miami Herald
“Captivating, suspenseful…tantalizing.” People Magazine
Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?
In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.
Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit busy, life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.
Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last-minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger-than-life personalities there will be a welcome respite.
Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?
In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.
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Truly Madly Guilty
By Liane Moriarty
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2016 Liane Moriarty
All rights reserved.
"This is a story that begins with a barbecue," said Clementine. The microphone amplified and smoothed her voice, making it more authoritative, as if it had been photoshopped. "An ordinary neighborhood barbecue in an ordinary backyard."
Well, not exactly an ordinary backyard, thought Erika. She crossed her legs, tucked one foot behind her ankle, and sniffed. Nobody would call Vid's backyard ordinary.
Erika sat in the middle of the back row of the audience in the event room that adjoined this smartly renovated local library in a suburb forty-five minutes out of the city, not thirty minutes, thank you very much, as suggested by the person at the cab company, who you would think would have some sort of expertise in the matter.
There were maybe twenty people in the audience, although there were foldout chairs available for twice that many. Most of the audience were elderly people, with lively, expectant faces. These were intelligent, informed senior citizens who had come along on this rainy (yet again, would it ever end?) morning to collect new and fascinating information at their local Community Matters Meeting. "I saw the most interesting woman speak today," they wanted to tell their children and grandchildren.
Before she came, Erika had looked up the library's website to see how it described Clementine's talk. The blurb was short, and not very informative:
Hear Sydney mother and well-known cellist Clementine Hart share her story: "One Ordinary Day."
Was Clementine really a "well-known" cellist? That seemed a stretch.
The five-dollar fee for today's event included two guest speakers, a delicious homemade morning tea and the chance to win a lucky door prize. The speaker after Clementine was going to talk about Council's controversial redevelopment plan for the local pool. Erika could hear the distant gentle clatter of cups and saucers being set up for the morning tea now. She held her flimsy raffle ticket for the lucky door prize safe on her lap. She couldn't be bothered putting it in her bag and then having to find it when they drew the raffle. Blue, E 24. It didn't have the look of a winning ticket.
The lady who sat directly in front of Erika had her gray, curly-haired head tipped to one side in a sympathetic, engaged manner, as if she were ready to agree with everything Clementine had to say. The tag on her shirt was sticking up. Size twelve. Target. Erika reached over and slid it back down.
The lady turned her head.
"Tag," whispered Erika.
The lady smiled her thanks and Erika watched the back of her neck turn pale pink. The younger man sitting next to her, her son perhaps, who looked to be in his forties, had a bar code tattooed on the back of his tanned neck, as if he were a supermarket product. Was it meant to be funny? Ironic? Symbolic? Erika wanted to tell him that it was, in point of fact, idiotic.
"It was just an ordinary Sunday afternoon," said Clementine.
Noticeable repetition of the word "ordinary." Clementine must have decided that it was important she appear "relatable" to these ordinary people in the ordinary outer suburbs. Erika imagined Clementine sitting at her small dining room table, or maybe at Sam's unrestored antique desk, in her shabby-chic sandstone terrace house with its "water glimpse," writing her little community-minded speech while she chewed on the end of her pen and pulled all that lavish, dark hair of hers over one shoulder to caress in that sensual, slightly self-satisfied way she had, as if she were Rapunzel, thinking to herself: Ordinary.
Indeed, Clementine, how shall you make the ordinary people understand?
"It was early winter. A cold, gloomy day," said Clementine.
What the ...? Erika shifted in her chair. It had been a beautiful day. A "magnificent" day. That was the word Vid had used.
Or possibly "glorious." A word like that, anyway.
"There was a real bite in the air," said Clementine, and she actually shivered theatrically, and surely unnecessarily, when it was warm in the room, so much so that a man sitting a few rows in front of Erika appeared to have nodded off. He had his legs stretched out in front of him and his hands clasped comfortably across his stomach, his head tipped back as if he were napping on an invisible pillow. Perhaps he'd died.
Maybe the day of the barbecue had been cool, but it was definitely not gloomy. Erika knew that eyewitness accounts were notoriously unreliable because people thought they just pressed Rewind on the little recorder installed in their heads, when in fact they constructed their memories. They "developed their own narratives." And so, when Clementine remembered the barbecue, she remembered a cold, gloomy day. But Clementine was wrong. Erika remembered (she remembered; she was absolutely not constructing) how on the morning of the barbecue, Vid had bent down to lean into her car window. "Isn't it a magnificent day!" he said.
Erika knew for an absolute fact that was what he'd said.
Or it may have been "glorious."
But it was a word with positive connotations. She could be sure of that.
(If only Erika had said, "Yes, Vid, it certainly is a magnificent/glorious day," and put her foot back on the accelerator.)
"I remember I'd dressed my little girls extra warmly," said Clementine.
Sam probably dressed the girls, thought Erika.
Clementine cleared her throat and gripped the sides of the lectern with both hands. The microphone was angled too high for her, so it seemed as though she were on tippy-toes trying to get her mouth close enough. Her neck was elongated, emphasizing the new skinniness of her face.
Erika considered the possibility of discreetly edging her way around the side of the room and zipping over to adjust the microphone. It would only take a second. She imagined Clementine shooting her a grateful smile. "Thank God you did that," she would say afterwards, while they had coffee. "You really saved the day."
Except that Clementine didn't really want Erika there today. Erika hadn't missed the horrified expression that flashed across her face when Erika had suggested she'd like to come along to hear her speak, although Clementine had quickly recovered herself and said it was fine, lovely, how nice, they could have coffee in the local food court afterwards.
"It was a last-minute invitation," said Clementine. "The barbecue. We didn't know our hosts that well. They were, well, they were friends of friends." She looked down at the lectern as if she'd lost her place. She'd carried a little pile of handwritten palm-sized index cards with her when she walked up to the lectern. There was something heartbreaking about those cards, as if Clementine had remembered that little tip from their oratory lessons at school. She must have cut them up with scissors. Not her grandmother's pearl-handled ones. They'd gone missing.
It was odd seeing Clementine "onstage," so to speak, without her cello. She looked so conventional, in her blue jeans and "nice" floral top. Suburban mum outfit. Clementine's legs were too short for jeans, and they looked even shorter with flat ballet shoes like she was wearing today. Well, it was just a fact. She had looked almost — even though it seemed so disloyal to use the word in relation to Clementine — frumpy, when she'd walked up to the lectern. When she performed, she put her hair up and wore heels and all black: long skirts made out of floaty material, wide enough so she could fit the cello between her knees. Seeing Clementine sit with her head bowed tenderly, passionately toward her cello, as if she were embracing it, one long tendril of hair falling just short of the strings, her arm bent at that strange, geometric angle, was always so sensual, so exotic, so other to Erika. Each time she saw Clementine perform, even after all these years, Erika inevitably experienced a sensation like loss, as though she yearned for something unattainable. She'd always assumed that sensation represented something more complicated and interesting than envy, because she had no interest in playing a musical instrument, but maybe it didn't. Maybe it all came back to envy.
Watching Clementine give this halting, surely pointless little speech in this little room, with a view of the busy shopping center parking lot instead of the hushed, soaring-ceilinged concert halls where she normally performed, gave Erika the same shameful satisfaction she felt seeing a movie star in a trashy magazine without makeup: You're not that special after all.
"So there were six adults there that day," said Clementine. She cleared her throat, rocked back onto her heels and then rocked forward again. "Six adults and three children."
And one yappy dog, thought Erika. Yap, yap, yap.
"As I said, we didn't really know our hosts, but we were all having a nice time, we were enjoying ourselves."
You were enjoying yourself, thought Erika. You were.
She remembered how Clementine's clear, bell-like laughter rose and fell in tandem with Vid's deep chuckle. She saw people's faces slip in and out of murky shadows, their eyes like black pools, sudden flashes of teeth.
They'd taken far too long that afternoon to turn on the outdoor lights in that preposterous backyard.
"I remember at one point we were listening to music," said Clementine. She looked down at the lectern in front of her, and then up again, as if she were seeing something on the horizon far in the distance. Her eyes were blank. She didn't look like a suburban mum now. "'After a Dream' by the French composer Gabriel Fauré." Naturally she pronounced it the proper French way. "It's a beautiful piece of music. It has this exquisite mournfulness to it."
She stopped. Did she sense the slight shifting in seats, the discomfort in her audience? "Exquisite mournfulness" was not the right phrase for this audience: too excessive, too arty. Clementine, my love, we're too ordinary for your highbrow references to French composers. Anyway, they also played "November Rain" by Guns N' Roses that night. Not quite so arty.
Wasn't the playing of "November Rain" somehow related to Tiffany's revelation? Or was that before? When exactly did Tiffany share her secret? Was that when the afternoon had turned to liquid and begun to slip and slide away?
"We had been drinking," said Clementine. "But no one was drunk. Maybe a little tipsy."
Her eyes met Erika's, as though she'd been aware of exactly where she was sitting the whole time and had been avoiding looking at her, but had now made a deliberate decision to seek her out. Erika stared back and tried to smile, like a friend, Clementine's closest friend, the godmother of her children, but her face felt paralyzed, as if she'd had a stroke.
"Anyway, it was very late in the afternoon and we were all about to have dessert, we were all laughing," said Clementine. She dropped Erika's gaze to look at someone else in the audience in the front row, and it felt dismissive, even cruel. "Over something. I don't remember what."
Erika felt light-headed, claustrophobic. The room had become unbearably stuffy.
The need to get out was suddenly overpowering. Here we go, she thought. Here we go again. Fight-or-flight response. Activation of her sympathetic nervous system. A shift in her brain chemicals. That's what it was. Perfectly natural. Childhood trauma. She'd read all the literature. She knew exactly what was happening to her but the knowledge made no difference. Her body went right ahead and betrayed her. Her heart raced. Her hands trembled. She could smell her childhood, so thick and real in her nostrils: damp and mold and shame.
"Don't fight the panic. Face it. Float through it," her psychologist had told her.
Her psychologist was exceptional, worth every cent, but for God's sake, as if you could float when there was no room, no space anywhere, above, below, when you couldn't take a step without feeling the spongy give of rotting stuff beneath your feet.
She stood, pulling at her skirt, which had gotten stuck to the backs of her legs. The guy with the bar code glanced over his shoulder at her. The sympathetic concern in his eyes gave her a tiny shock; it was like seeing the disconcertingly intelligent eyes of an ape.
"Sorry," whispered Erika. "I have to —" She pointed at her watch and shuffled sideways past him, trying not to brush the back of his head with her jacket.
As she reached the back of the room, Clementine said, "I remember there was a moment when my friend screamed my name. Really loud. I'll never forget the sound."
Erika stopped with her hand on the door, her back to the front of the room. Clementine must have leaned toward the microphone because her voice suddenly filled the room: "She shouted, Clementine!"
Clementine had always been an excellent mimic; as a musician she had an ear for the precise intonations in people's voices. Erika could hear raw terror and shrill urgency in just that one word, "Clementine!"
Erika knew she was the friend who had shouted Clementine's name that night but she had no memory of it. There was nothing but a pure white space where that memory should have been, and if she couldn't remember a moment like that, well, that indicated a problem, an anomaly, a discrepancy, an extremely significant and concerning discrepancy. The wave of panic peaked and nearly swept her off her feet. She pushed down the handle of the door and staggered out into the relentless rain.CHAPTER 2
"Been at a meeting then?" said the cabdriver taking Erika back into the city. He grinned paternally at her in the rearview mirror as if it was kind of cute the way women worked these days, all dressed up in suits, almost like they were proper businesspeople.
"Yes," said Erika. She gave her umbrella a vigorous shake on the floor of the cab. "Keep your eyes on the road."
"Yes, ma'am!" The cabdriver tapped two fingertips to his forehead in a mock salute.
"The rain," said Erika defensively. She indicated the raindrops pelleting furiously against the windshield. "Slippery roads."
"Just drove this goose to the airport," said the cabdriver. He stopped talking as he changed lanes, one meaty hand on the wheel, the other arm slung casually along the back of the seat, leaving Erika with the image of an actual large white goose sitting in the backseat of the taxi.
"He reckons all this rain is related to climate change. I said, mate, mate, I said, it's nothing to do with climate change. It's La Niña! You know about La Niña? El Niño and La Niña? Natural events! Been happening for thousands of years."
"Right," said Erika. She wished Oliver were with her. He'd take on this conversation for her. Why were cabdrivers so insistent on educating their passengers?
"Yep. La Niña," said the cabbie, with a sort of Mexican inflection. He obviously enjoyed saying "La Niña." "So, we broke the record, hey? Longest consecutive run of rainy days in Sydney since 1932. Hooray for us!"
"Yes," said Erika. "Hooray for us."
It was 1931, she never forgot a number, but there was no need to correct him.
"I think you'll find it was 1931," she said. She couldn't help herself. It was a character flaw. She knew it.
"Yep, that's it, 1931," said the cabbie, as if that's what he'd said in the first place. "Before that it was twenty-four days in 1893. Twenty-four rainy days in a row! Let's hope we don't break that record too, hey? Think we will?"
"Let's hope not," said Erika. She ran a finger along her forehead. Was that sweat or rain?
She'd calmed down as she waited in the rain outside the library for the cab. Her breathing was steady again, but her stomach still rocked and roiled, and she felt exhausted, depleted, as if she'd run a marathon.
She took out her phone and texted Clementine: Sorry, had to rush off, problem at work, you were fantastic, talk later.
She changed "fantastic" to "great." Fantastic was over the top. Also inaccurate. She pressed Send.
It had been an error of judgment to take precious time out of her working day to come and listen to Clementine's talk. She'd only gone to be supportive, and because she wanted to get her own feelings about what had happened filed away in an orderly fashion. It was as though her memory of that afternoon was a strip of old-fashioned film, and someone had taken a pair of scissors and removed certain frames. They weren't even whole frames. They were slivers. Thin slivers of time. She just wanted to fill in those slivers, without admitting to anyone, "I don't quite remember it all."
An image came to her of her own face reflected in her bathroom mirror, her hands shaking violently as she tried to break that little yellow pill in half with her thumbnail. She suspected the gaps in her memory were related to the tablet she'd taken that afternoon. But it was a prescription pill. It wasn't like she'd popped an Ecstasy tablet before going to a barbecue.
Excerpted from Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. Copyright © 2016 Liane Moriarty. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
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