I had the pleasure of reading Big Little Lies a few years ago and it quickly became one of my favorite books. Liane Moriarty is positively spellbinding—her storytelling is on a level of its own and her witty prose keep her readers wrapped around her finger from the first page to the last. I’ve read several of her other books since, but Big Little Lies is without a doubt my favorite.
So when I heard that HBO was turning it into a TV show, I was thrilled. And when I saw the line-up of incredible actors who’d signed on for the project, I knew they were going to hit it out of the park.
And then the show aired.
Every article I’ve seen has celebrated the show for being a hugely feminist win overall. And it is true, the women in and behind this show—Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, to name a few—are nothing less than girl power at it’s best. And maybe if I had never read and loved the book, I would be singing the same praise of the show. But, for me, the show has veered from the book’s sincere, touching and incredibly relatable nature in some overtly unnecessary ways.
A few weeks before the show began I asked Mamalode staff writer Morgan to cover weekly recaps of the show. Being a young mom herself, I could think of a few characters in the book she might be able to connect with, Jane being the most obvious. I knew that each character in the book is driven by the characteristic she most relates to: that of mother. And as Morgan has a child about the same age of the children in the book, I figured she would see herself in at least one of the main characters each week, perhaps at different times in their character’s arch. But with each digression from the book’s plot, I watched as Morgan struggled to connect to ANY of the show’s principal characters and I wondered, how did these overtly relatable figures in the book turn into unrecognizable TV personalities?
To me, it feels like they’ve perhaps overwritten the story for TV. The book was a story of being a woman and being a mom. The story lines weren’t as sensational—they were stories you could hear tossed around at pick-up time in the parking lot of any school, anywhere. I think the thing that really gets me about the show is it almost feels like being Mom—being simply woman—wasn’t quite enough for airtime on HBO. A few quick examples from the three leading ladies:
- Jane: The book explores the (to me) much more fascinating “grey area” around rape. Jane herself goes back and forth and is hesitant to define her son’s conception as such: the book asking the hard, and oh-so-relevant and thought-provoking questions that many of us, and much of modern media, are afraid to. Was it? Wasn’t it? And what does it mean if you have to wonder these things? It got me thinking and questioning, just like a good book does. They’ve removed this aspect from the TV show, and I’m disappointed in that—it feels like a missed opportunity.
- Madeline: The affair. WHY? The book allowed her to explore the complicated feelings of abandonment and betrayal she felt as she watched her ex-husband remarry and start a new family, seemingly unscathed after turning her world upside down. But her uncomplicated love for her new husband was a nice foil and offered the reader a sense of “it’s ok to feel this way—in fact—it’s normal.” This affair strips her storyline of that.
- Celeste: Liane Moriarty’s written account of this abusive relationship brought to life a terrible, and all too common, reality that more women face than should ever have to. But again, she opened the door to the idea that it is always so complicated: Liane let her readers see why beautiful, smart, successful Celeste stays with a man who abuses her. While watching the show, it’s completely baffling: LEAVE HIM! is all you can think. And while that happens reading the book too, you understand their love, you understand the other aspects of their relationship and you can see how so many women do find themselves in her shoes. This book gave me a clearer understanding of and profoundly deep empathy for domestic abuse victims. Taking away the relatability (for lack of a better word) again feels like a hugely missed opportunity by HBO.
Maybe I’m taking it too hard. Maybe I’m jaded from watching too many blockbuster movies butcher beloved books. And maybe I’m holding it to too high a standard (because can anything on a screen really beat the storytelling of your favorite a book?). But then again, we’re talking about the people who brought us Khaleesi for god’s sake! I think I was justified in my high expectations. There’s still one episode left. Maybe they will tie it all up in a way that satisfies even the most extreme of Liane Moriarty’s fans.
But until then, I ask you—readers, world, HBO—what could possibly be more entertaining, more sensational, than being a woman? Than being a mom?