Apples Never Fall

Everywhere, ears are tuned in. Café waiters discreetly listen behind their order pads; baristas catch snippets amid the hiss of espresso machines. Cleaners mop up whispered secrets house after house. Uber drivers unwittingly overhear; even pedicurists are privy to hushed conversations. And amidst it all, loyal hairdressers hold a treasure trove of tales shared in the intimacy of their salons.

In Liane Moriarty’s latest novel, “Apples Never Fall,” a mystery unfurls through fragments and murmurs—a suspected murder, a vanishing body—each witness holding their own narrative: exams to face, bills to settle, Tinder dates to anticipate, the solitude of widowhood. Their observations stem from the invisibility often bestowed upon service industry workers—viewed as functional fixtures rather than individuals. While our garrulous ensemble may overlook them, Moriarty certainly doesn’t.

Moriarty’s keen eye for gentrified absurdities shines through: retail centers masquerading as rustic Italian villages, memoir classes filled with elegantly attired women penning tales of woe on pristine stationery, and affluent streets populated by designer dogs and pricy strollers. She reigns as the acerbic queen of Sydney suburbia for good reason.

Until now, I’d known Moriarty’s work solely by reputation and through the buzz of prestige television adaptations like “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers,” starring the enigmatic Nicole Kidman. So when the galley of “Apples Never Fall” arrived—a hefty tome of 500 pages—I anticipated a narrative steeped in affluent intrigue and its accompanying woes: gossip weaponized, class divisions exposed, and the occasional untimely demise, perhaps against the backdrop of a scenic harbor. While Moriarty’s trademark elements are indeed present, there’s an understated tension lurking beneath the more sensational facets of the book.

In a neighborhood characterized by “nicely modulated voices” and meticulously tended gardens, the disappearance of aspiring grandmother and formidable tennis player, Joy Delaney, casts a shadow. Her husband, Stan, bears suspicious scratches, attributing them to an encounter with a vindictive hedge. However, attentive neighbors—always on the alert—recall overhearing the couple argue on the night of her disappearance. For over four decades, Joy and Stan ran the local tennis school, their four tennis-obsessed children now grown, yet still grappling with their childhood grievances. The Delaney family’s intricate web of alliances, grievances, and unresolved tensions forms the heart of the narrative.

When Moriarty invites us to the Delaney dinner table, the narrative crackles with intensity. A Father’s Day lunch transforms into a theatrical display of bruised egos—a buffet of simmering resentments. Yet, beneath the surface levity, domestic horror looms: as days stretch into weeks with no sign of Joy, the Delaney children confront the chilling possibility that their father may have murdered their mother.

Had Moriarty kept the focus narrowed—a portrait of a family torn apart by suspicion and simmering resentments—”Apples Never Fall” could have been a nuanced exploration of everyday violence, the erosion of women’s agency, and the destructive power of unchecked anger. However, Moriarty opts for a glossier mystery, introducing a young woman who arrives on the Delaney doorstep battered and in need of refuge. Intricate revelations and elaborate revenge plots ensue.

Yet, this subplot, fueled by a worn-out and harmful trope—a manipulative woman fabricating claims of intimate partner violence—feels jarring and uninspired. The characters’ awareness of this trope and their willingness to trust the interloper exacerbates its disheartening nature.

Ultimately, “Apples Never Fall” feels excessively adorned, like an ornate café breakfast designed for Instagram rather than sustenance. It’s undeniably readable, yet one can’t help but crave more substance from an author of Moriarty’s caliber. In clumsily grafting Joy’s story onto that of a young, sensationalized stranger, Moriarty perpetuates the very pattern she critiques—a missed opportunity in an otherwise incisive narrative.


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By acinetv