Let’s talk about chick lit. I’ll begin by stipulating that I don’t like the term, which is generally used these days to dismiss a wide range of writing by women, but it can be useful when considering the evolution of a certain strain of sharp, funny, popular women’s fiction. When Helen Fielding burst on to the scene almost 20 years ago with Bridget Jones’s Diary, the genre she sparked featured young women looking for love, generally with a sense of humor. The books’ knowing tones and satirical edges proved so popular that they started spreading, and the genre morphed to include books about jobs (The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada) and then the combination of work and parenthood (I Don’t Know How She Does It).
When a journalist sees three examples of anything, it’s a trend, and I’ve noticed a trend that feels like a direct descendant of those early chick-lit books (though I still don’t like the term): Let’s call them “Moms Behaving Badly” books. The first was the biting Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, about a Seattle woman sent around the bend by many things but primarily, the self-righteous mothers at her daughter’s touchy-feely private school. Then last year came Gill Hornby’s The Hive, about a group of mothers at a private school outside London who spend their time obsessing about who’s going to be invited to serve on the fundraising committee—so they can get closer to their local queen bee, conveniently named Bea. (Hornby’s brother is Nick Hornby, whose early novels were dubbed “lad lit” in a brief stab at equal opportunity branding.)
Now Liane Moriarty has joined the fray with her delightful Big Little Lies, about a group of mothers who meet at kindergarten orientation at Pirriwee Public in Australia. (Three continents, three groups of parents, same bad behavior.) We know from the beginning that someone dies suspiciously at the school’s fundraiser, and the book counts down the months and weeks leading up to the big night, focusing on a trio of mothers who each has something to hide.
If grouping these books under a silly label brings them more attention—and encourages more people to read them—then label away.