Insights from the Library’s Book Discussion Group: Big Little Lies

June’s book discussion read was Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which follows the lives of three women caught up in a series of events set in motion on the first day of pre-school orientation and culminating in a disastrous school sponsored trivia night months later. Though it can be a difficult read as it shines a harsh light on the realities of domestic violence, bullying, and sexual abuse, the book is, at times, genuinely funny and charming. Much of its charm is due to Madeline Mackenzie, who functions almost as a trickster figure in her role as one of the three main characters.

Cunning and wily, traditional tricksters hail from the realm of mythology where they are often depicted as anthropomorphic animals, demigods, or otherwise nonhuman beings that sometimes possess fantastical abilities. They can be callous in their capriciousness but are just as often used for comedic relief. Tricksters operate in the gray areas by crossing moral boundaries, and stirring up then ordering chaos. Because of their irreverent nature, they often function as unconventional moral compasses. Think of the court jester, another common incarnation of the trickster. They embody mutability by purposefully initiating change with the mischief they create.

Madeline is the novel’s main mischief-maker, deciding to wage a moral war on Renata in order to protect Jane and Ziggy, whom she believes to be innocent despite Renata’s accusations. Though the reader may sympathize with some of Renata’s actions, her contentions were incorrect and her vicious campaign to ostracize a young child from the preschool community is alarming. As a direct result, the parents of Pirriwee Peninsula are divided along the battle lines drawn by Madeline and disturbing secrets are revealed. Madeline’s actions propel the plot by creating tension that is resolved with the merging of several different plot lines and the death of a parent. This death then initiates a period of transformation for several characters as the novel ends.

Pick up Big Little Lies for you next book club. Its examination of tough topics combined with humor offer the potential for an animated yet deeply probing discussion about parenting, friendship, family, abuse, and human social connection. The library also has the HBO miniseries starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley available for checkout.

Are you interested in reading more about tricksters? Consider checking out these titles:

Trickster and hero: two characters in the oral and written traditions of the world

American Indian trickster tales

The trickster’s hat: a mischievous apprenticeship in creativity

The orphan girl: and other stories, West African folk tales

American Indian myths and legends

The heroine with 1,001 faces

The hero with a thousand faces

Oranda Davis
Reference Librarian