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Big Little Lies review and book vs. show


To piggyback off my last TV show/book review of Little Fires Everywhere, I just finished reading and watching season one of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies. What initially drew the book to me was Stephen King's recommendation on the cover, "A hell of a book. Funny and scary." As a huge King fan, I was immediately intrigued. After reading and watching the show, I would have to agree with King's statement.

The book brings up themes of domestic violence, gossip, bullying, womanhood, and parenthood. It's as much of a story about how adults can act like the children they raise as anything. When a kindergartener (first grader in the show) Ammabella points out that fellow classmate Ziggy choked her in class in front of all the parents, divisions are made and lies are spread like wildfire. But this theme of abuse is echoed in other characters' lives as well - whether it be emotional, sexual, or physical.

The HBO Max TV show plays the characters well through the likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shallene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, and company. Meryl Streep makes her appearance in Season 2, but I haven't started that yet. Like the book, each character makes you feel as if something like this could actually happen, and their personalities make you love them or hate them consistently throughout.

While both the show and book can be slow-moving at times, humor and the relationships between the characters is essentially the glue that holds both of the mediums together. Just the same, as the characters develop, it leads to the thriller drama that we see in the later part of the book/episodes.

I recommend reading and watching the first season (I haven't watched the second one yet), as it is a master in character dynamics, and tackling themes that need to be addressed.

Below are the striking differences that I noticed between the show and the book. This is more of a section for those who have already read the book and/or watched the show. I caution you that there are spoilers for both ahead.

1) The show goes into the play a lot more.

The play is only briefly mentioned in the book, but the show drags out the importance of Avenue Q as this battle between Madilyn and Renata and the importance of free speech. It gets Celeste wrapped up in it later as a retired attorney, a relationship between Madilyn and play director Joseph Bachman (Santiago Cabrera) and is the cause of strife between characters Ed and Madilyn and Celeste and Perry.

2) Madilyn and Joseph never have an affair in the book.

I think they decided to insert this into the show to create more drama and to parallel a storyline that Abigail's character would undergo later on. Plus, when you have a show that will span two seasons, you need some back story. It was an okay back story in that it definitely created inner and external conflict, but it was it necessary? Not really.

3) Abigail's website was live in the book and she received two hundred grand from an unknown source to take it down.

This actually bothered me a bit that this wasn't in the show. I don't think this would have been that difficult to keep in. The fact that she didn't make it live meant that her character was not as impulsive as her character in the book. The book went into more detail here about how she was getting comments from creeps about paying for her virginity but still refused to take it down. Her mother in the story didn't go into a whole thing about her affair with her, but instead said some wise words about how her ends didn't justify her means. And when she received the money to take it down, she both helped Amnesty International and figured it a good idea to turn from her plan. The way they went about it still had the same emotional outrage from the parents, but it just wasn't the same.

4) Jane's rape story was different.

The book focused more on her emotional abuse than her sexual. What really stayed with Jane was the fact that Saxon Banks called her fat and ugly. The fact that he aphyxiated her and didn't use a condom without her permission was an afterthought. She said how years after that she never looked at food the same way again and felt that what he said was true. I thought it interesting too that they spent so little time in her recounting the actual story.

5) She never drove to seek out Saxon.

The whole driving to find him was just a measure to build suspense, and it worked for the show. If you were just someone watching it, you were wondering if she was going to kill him. The way they did this was well done. But what they left out in the show was that she moved to Pirriwee (in the book), or Monterrey (in the show) in hopes to run into him.

6) Saxon Banks was first considered Perry's cousin.

They never talked about this in the show. I'm not sure why, as it would have been an interesting twist. The idea that violence could run in the family would have added another layer of depth to the show, as it had to the book. But, I guess that they chose to jettison that for her seeking him out to perhaps kill him.

7) It was clearer that Saxon was Perry in the end.

This was kind of annoying to me. The book made it pretty clear that Saxon was Perry by book's end while Jane's eyes simply flickered in the show that left viewers guessing as to his real identity. We could figure it out, but it was sort of anti-climatic for such a huge moment. The book talks about how Perry stole his name from his cousin as a secret identity as well.

8) Saxon Banks (Perry) cheated on Celeste with Jane.

Another juicy tidbit that the show left out was that Jane and Celeste realized that Perry must have cheated on Celeste while they were married and trying to get pregnant. Celeste had the hardest time getting pregnant, and one of the things that Jane and Perry talked about in that hotel room were him having kids one day. The fact that his cheating was not brought up is kind of a downer. Maybe it will be revealed in Season 2.

9) I haven't watched Season 2 yet, but the book is almost over by this point so...

By the time Season 1 ended, the book pretty is much wrapped up. I'm guessing they're going to devote an entire season to figuring out who killed Perry. But seven episodes on that seems a little much. In my experience with TV shows that go too far away from the book, things can get a little sloppy. Examples of this include The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. By the time they outlived the texts, you could tell the quality in the shows started going downhill.

10) Ziggy never kisses Amabella in the book.

I'm not sure why they included this in the show, and the aftermath of it was a little ridiculous in making such a big sexual assault thing about it and having a parent meeting. I guess it added more drama, but I think it was kind of a weak spot in the show.

Lastly, the book takes place in Australia and the show airs in California. So in place of "G'day mate," you have "Hello." Sometimes it's interesting reading about places you're not as familiar with. But it's also comfortable to watch something in your native tongue.

My last thoughts are this: the book in this case is better. But the show does stand well on its own. If you watched Little Fires Everywhere by the way, you may see a couple of similarities, namely in Reese Witherspoon's fiery personality. The book doesn't go into dramatic scenes just because, but it works in some areas for the TV series. I will be watching Season 2, even though I'm not expecting much since the book is just about over at that point.

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