There are so many enticing books out this fall – it would seem that our favorite authors have been writing away all during the pandemic with good stories on their minds – less graphic grossness, sex and violence anyway. I’ve got books lined up by release date – Yay! I don’t usually pre-order – why bother when I can get to what I want within a few minutes of when I’m ready to start reading.
Apples Never Fall
By Liane Moriarty
Sept 2021 / (516 pgs print)
Read by Caroline Lee 18h 3m
Rating: 9.5 / Literary – crime
This may be a beautiful love story. I’m not big on genre romance but this isn’t that – not by a long shot. This is dysfunctional people mostly loving each other but sometimes hating each other in family situations. It’s also a crime novel.
And it’s a long book – 472 pages in print – starting slow with Moriarty building and developing several characters and situations in two different time frames, one being “Now” and the other 8 months prior, “Last September.”
In the “Now” sections Mom has disappeared and been missing for 2 weeks. In the “Last September” parts the events preceding Mom’s disappearance are revealed as well as the family dynamics. But the first big twist, for me anyway, was at about 2/3 of the way through.
It’s important though because for those pages the book is actually more a steadily deepening study of this family’s dynamics. At first glance everything looks fine on the outside, but then we get to looking at the insides of the individuals and the tensions people live under. We realize that these people say everything except what’s important. It’s a very passive aggressive environment with very competitive people We get to know all the major characters and the slightly or severely dysfunctional ways in which they operate. Moriarty is a new Anne Tyler or Alice Munro at character development.
The driving mystery of the book is “What happened to Mom, who done it, and why?” And that’s what the tension builds around, starting from a generally placid exterior issue and moving towards disaster on two levels.
Domestic abuse of various sorts and love of all kinds are the major themes. The abuse never gets graphic, but it does result in a couple or more tragedies. And there are myriad connections.
Joy and Stan Delaney are retired tennis instructors who have recently sold their tennis school. Joy is 69, Stan is 70. They live near Sydney, Australia and they have four grown children, Amy, Brooke, and Troy who live nearby andLogan, the most successful, lives further away. They were all very great tennis players in their youth, although not quite the best of the best. That honor went to another, a former student of Stan’s.
This book starts out with this lovely family of six, two parents who are still mostly in love but there are frays, and their four very talented but somewhat screwed up adult children. As the tale unfolds we get a closer and deeper picture of this family which hides all their important difficulties. Dad gets right on the line of abusive.
One evening “Last September” a young woman rings the doorbell at the Delaneys and then pounds on their door until they have to let her in. She has left her boyfriend for abuse and has nowhere to go. Joy and Stan take her in and help her out until Joy disappears – whereabouts unknown.
Stan and Joy are just very competitive people and they train their kids to be champions. The book is more a study of characters and an exploration of family dynamics than it is a mystery. But the mystery is important –
Amy is the eldest in her late 30s, works at whatever jobs she can get, is single and shares a flat with 3 others. She goes to counseling sessions about something. Simon Barrington, an accountant, is her mostly platonic roommate/friend.
Logan teaches business correspondence at a college. He actually went to college, graduated and used it for getting ahead. He has classy tastes. He’s unmarried but in a long-term relationship with a woman who leaves him after 10 years.
Brooke is the youngest daughter, married to Grant and has recently opened a small health and exercise clinic. She overworks at everything. Since she was a child she’s been over-nervous and started getting migraines and dropped out. She couldn’t really enjoy tennis after that. Her father blames Brooke for quitting competitive tennis. She and Grant separate and she’s now losing clients.
Troy, the youngest, is divorced from Claire and works at something, somewhere, making lots of money. He lived in Texas for awhile. He has a very hot temper. Claire is ready to have a baby and wants to use Troy’s saved embryos.
There are no grandchildren although there is desire.
Savannah (Pagonis) is an interloper and not given an intimate treatment until near the end so we never get inside her head which adds suspense. She helps Stan and Joy in many ways. She ingratiates herself quietly and pleasantly but there is always the question of why. Amy does not like Savannah, at all. The others are wary except Mom who wants to be a mom.
The main detectives are Christina and Ethan busily prying into the lives of everyone.
In the backstory we find out that mom and dad have plenty to disagree about concerning their kids and how well they did with tennis. And there’s Harry Hadad who comes into the story because he was the “superstar Grand Slam winner” who got away and became a famous Australian tennis star. Stan never got over the loss of Harry and his children still feel the betrayal.
From the first pages and 2 weeks after Mom’s disappearance the police are involved. This is about 9 months after Savannah appears on the scene and moves in. Information turns up which looks very bad on Stan, but there are lots of leads.
It took me about 6 hours to really get into the book but I was curious from the start. The mystery only comes into play a wee bit at a time.
And the voice on the Audio is very interesting –
Moriarity writes nicely with great insight and sly wit and Caroline Lee, the narrator, brings out the best of it. The structure is interesting but not overly complicated. I sometimes got the Delaney children mixed up, but that was minimal. This might go in my top 10 fictions of the year.