The Oscars Effect

The Specs

The Oscars has one particular thing in common with the movies it rewards: takes way too long to reach the climax. I never really thought about it until this past February when, while watching the Academy Awards together, my friend Dana told me that one reason she thoroughly enjoyed Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water was because of the film editing. It didn’t consume three hours of her time for the sake of being an award-winning movie. This brings me to The Oscars Effect: when a movie knows it has the Oscar caliber so it must be ridiculously long and/or take an inordinate amount of time to climax.

As much as I love Liane Moriarty (the woman inspired the name of this blog after all), her 2016 novel, Truly Madly Guilty, falls victim to the Oscars Effect. The novel focuses on supposedly best friends, Clementine and Erica, whose friendship could be a story in and of itself. In addition to their troubled relationship, both women face complications in their marriages and careers and with their parents, children, and neighbors. These complications drive the back stories behind the main plot. In Truly Madly Guilty, a friendly barbecue among neighbors and friends turns life-changing after one accident. Sounds interesting enough except I don’t learn what this earth-shattering, tragic or nontragic, adulterous or PG-rated calamity is until two-thirds of the way through.

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Moriarty’s books are known for having one mysterious plot as it sifts through its characters’ various psyches and personal dramas. But Moriarty spends too much time on all three, and I wasn’t convinced that they were appropriately woven together. There was more than a plethora of instances during the flashback scenes where the characters referenced the barbecue and the guilt they felt as a result. Granted, I wanted to keep reading so I could finally reach this plot epiphany, but my frustration couldn’t be quelled. The New York Times summed up my feelings best:

“It’s worth plowing through the first half of the book just to find out, even if you need to stifle an inner scream every time the author drops one of these: a reference to Clementine’s “feelings of guilt and horror over what had happened at the barbecue.” Guilt? Horror? “Like the memory of a nightmare you can’t quite get out of your head,” wrote book critic Janet Maslin.

Once I finally reached the reveal, I was kind of over the book. It dived more into the central characters and their individual issues, and it introduced unnecessary plots, characters, and details. Again the New York Times was in agreement. “You’d have to be a very dedicated Moriarty fan to believe much of anything that happens post-crisis.” And I am a fan. The bones of a great story are there, but Moriarty doesn’t fully commit. And this time, she doesn’t win me over.

“Everyone had another sort of life up their sleeve that might have made them happy.” — Truly Madly Guilty

Nonetheless, Truly Madly Guilty still deserves three out of five flames. It was especially good for a summer read, which is why my book club chose it for this season’s pick. Hopefully her next novel will shy away from the Oscars Effect that plagues so many classics and will suck me into a solid rabbit hole.

2 thoughts on “The Oscars Effect

  1. Pingback: The Past 12 Months | Big Little Literature

  2. Pingback: Ranked: Reads in 2017 | Big Little Literature

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