Big Little Lies and The Post

Greetings. We had a big snowstorm last week and now have a lot of snow on the ground. It’s been cold too! Ouch. Nonetheless my husband and I went cross-country skiing both days this past weekend, which was fun, and now have been watching quite a bit of the Olympics. Some of the events have already been spectacular such as when the Norwegians made a medal sweep of the cross-country “skiathlon” race — in which the skier fell at the beginning, was trampled, and still got up and won the race after being in last place: Wow. Can you tell I’m already in deep watching the Games? I’ll be cheering on a couple hometown skiers — Go Trevor! — among others. I’m also wondering if the women’s Canadian hockey team will win its fifth Olympic gold in a row. You hear about such things when you live here. No pressure or anything, right? I’m also rooting for the big team down south and various other athletes as well. I’m all over the place.

Meanwhile recently I went through a “Big Little Lies” phase — not me personally — but I’m talking about the 2014 novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty and the HBO TV series that’s based on it. I finished both — as I had to see what all the fuss was about … since the TV series recently won 4 Golden Globes as well as 8 Emmys. I was curious: was it really that good? I think I hadn’t picked up the popular, bestselling novel before because it seemed to be essentially chick-lit, which in full-blown mode isn’t usually my cup of tea, but there’s a bit more to this novel than just that. For one thing it’s done well and for another it takes quite a stand. For those who don’t know what the book’s about:

It takes place in an idyllic Australian seaside town where you find out at the beginning that someone has died at the parents’ Trivia Night — a part of the elementary school’s fundraiser. You don’t know who it is or what has happened but eventually the story leads up to that. Backtrack six months earlier, and you meet the characters who appear to be the possible victims or perpetrators at the school’s kindergarten orientation.

There’s Chloe’s mom, the remarried Madeline who is gregarious and knows everyone and everything going on in town, but is having issues with her ex-husband and their teenage daughter who wants to move in with her dad’s new family. And then there’s her best friend Celeste, who seems to have the perfect life, rich and beautiful with twin boys and a hedge fund manager husband, though it’s far from the happiness it appears. And lastly Jane, who Madeline and Celeste befriend, is a young single mom who’s just moved to town with her son Ziggy and seems to have something dark hidden in her past.

All of them seem to be having family issues or have secrets that unfold as times goes on. But it’s after Jane’s son Ziggy is accused of bullying at school that sides are drawn and tensions mount among cliques of moms at school and within marriages, which eventually boil over on the night of the fundraiser.

Oh my, it’s more than you bargained for. I liked how the novel effectively takes on such serious issues as bullying and domestic abuse — as well as being a bit satirical and funny in places about the whole school gossipy scene and these well-off parents with families who behave badly. I thought it made some interesting connections and conclusions and was pretty much an easy page-turner about the three women’s lives, though the long countdown the chapters take to get to what happens at the school’s fundraiser drove me sort of crazy. It felt a bit long at 486 pages and I didn’t really care for the group narrative that acted like a Greek chorus at the end of each chapter. Those seemed to bog things down though I’m sure they’re meant to show various viewpoints and for comic relief. Despite these minor gripes, I’m glad I read the novel, and I eagerly took on the show.

The TV series follows the novel pretty closely though it adds a couple of things too. One noticeable change is that it’s set in Monterey, California, instead of Australia, though it seems to work well and the scenery is gorgeous. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley are all quite good as the three friends whose kids are in kindergarten together and whose lives involve some sticky family issues. Laura Dern too is great as the parent whose child is being bullied and who lashes out at the child she thinks is responsible.

The show is a bit soap opera-y about the well-off, but it makes for total escape watching and an entertaining show … beautiful people in a beautiful landscape behaving badly. You know the kind. And by the end you find out what happens at the school’s fundraiser and who dies. I enjoyed it and perhaps liked it maybe more than the book. Even my husband liked it, ha, which was a test. Apparently Meryl Streep has been cast in the show’s Season 2, which has yet to be filmed and which goes beyond the book, since that ended with Season 1.

Next up I finished debut author Karen Cleveland’s spy thriller “Need to Know.” It’s about a CIA analyst named Vivian — a wife and mother of four children — who finds out in a secret dossier that someone close to her is a part of a Russian sleeper cell and everything she thought she knew and trusted is not what it was. Oh my, this is a plot that might appeal to fans of the TV show “The Americans,” which, as you probably know, is about two Soviet KGB officers in the 1980s that pose as an American married couple living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., with their two children. (I think I only watched Season 1, but the sixth and final season is supposed to start in March.)

Anyways, this story made me feel quite uncomfortable at first because the main character Vivian seems to be giving in to the Russians to shield the person close to her. I was afraid the whole thing was going to be about “breaking bad” and handing over classified information, which felt awful, but luckily towards the end the story takes a turn and Vivian gets more of a backbone. Thank goodness. I still had trouble believing some of her earlier decisions, but I thought her fear felt pretty palpable and the situation to be as bad as one of your worst nightmares.

It’s quite a fast-paced book, one that mixes a family drama with a spy thriller. Apparently the author was a CIA analyst herself so she knows her way around Langley and those who fight to keep secrets. I think I gave it a 3.5 on Goodreads. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a series, which I guess I wouldn’t mind checking out more of.

Lastly my husband and I saw the movie The Post, which we both liked. There are a few facets to the movie that make it quite a story to see, especially in the era when the press is quite often vilified and attacked under the current administration. Is it any wonder that Steven Spielberg rushed to make the film after Trump was elected and got it into theaters in six months flat.

Set during a few weeks in 1971, the movie revisits the Washington Post’s decision to publish portions of the Pentagon Papers, a classified report about America’s involvement in Vietnam. It runs through the events as they unfolded in an suspenseful fashion: about how the New York Times had broken the story but had been ordered to stop publishing the papers; and how the Washington Post then obtained them and what was at stake to publish them; and how the newspaper could’ve been ruined.

It’s an anxious ride revisiting this episode in history — and what it meant to freedom of the press, as the movie shows, and being able to hold the government accountable, which is so essential to our democracy. What I liked too about the movie is how it shows Katharine Graham coming into her own as publisher of The Post during a time when the industry and government was very male run. She had a lot on the line (she was about to take her company public at the time of the Pentagon Papers) and she held the reins and came through big time.

It’s interesting to note that Graham was an unlikely feminist pioneer of the times who was quite shy and prone to self-doubt, but she was thrust into the spotlight after her husband’s death when she took over The Post and went on to become quite a newspaper icon. I am grateful that I got a chance to hear her speak a few times when I worked at The Post in the 1990s. I recommend reading her autobiography, if you haven’t already, called “Personal History,” which is fascinating.

Indeed some of the best parts of the movie are just the quiet performances and interactions between Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, and Tom Hanks as executive editor Ben Bradlee. Meryl is particularly wonderful in the role — she seems to be able to conjure up the late Mrs. Graham. And what’s best too are the scenes of the old linotype machines and the newspaper going to press. Ahh those were the days. I told you I was crazy about newspaper movies, and this one is no exception.

What about you — have you seen or read any of these works, and if so, what did you think?

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28 Responses to Big Little Lies and The Post

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    It has been cold here on Long Island but we have not had too much snow or ice over the last couple of weeks. I cannot wait for winter to end.

    Need to Know sounds interesting. I also find weak characters frustrating. However, it reflects reality for some people, I think books need to sometimes portray them.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Brian, I too am looking forward to spring. The whole topic of Russian sleeper cells living in the U.S. posing as Americans is rather daunting & creepy. This story brings that out. I’m sure the character was in shock & also feeling quite helpless in the situation. Hmm. Still I am critical of her, ha.

  2. Carmen says:

    I saw the show Big Little Lies, though I haven’t read the book. The TV show was very good, imo, with excellent performances and those dark issues running beneath the surface; I wouldn’t mind reading the book. Need to Know sounds good, especially if the author was a CIA analyst herself; she knows what she is talking about, as is most times the case with those spy thriller books.

    I haven’t watched The Post. I’ll wait until it comes up for rent, but last weekend I saw the movie Mark Felt – The Man Who Brought Down The White House, which is about the man behind ‘Deep Throat’. I thought it was very good. I will be reviewing it soon. I suspect you may like it. While it is not in the same league as Frost/Nixon or All the President’s Men, it makes a very nice companion piece to those movies, and it is wonderfully acted by Liam Neeson.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Carmen, I’ll be interested to watch the Mark Felt movie. It was Quite a mystery all those years finding out who Deep Throat was. And I didn’t realize you’d already seen Big Little Lies but I’m glad you liked it. It was quite entertaining & dark too; something we watched quickly. And the CIA book is nowhere near like Daniel Silva’s quality but it’s quite a bit different & sort of mixes family drama in. I found it rather a sticky dilemma.

  3. I listened to Big Little Lies and didn’t love it but I struggle with British narrators. I probably should have read it in print. I haven’t watched the TV show and probably won’t.

    I saw The Post and wondered if it was made because of the current administration. I also wonder if there’s going to be a sequel on Watergate.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Kathy, I thought the Post movie was made now for a reason — to make a point about the current times. I guess I don’t think there will be a sequel about Watergate b/c of the movie All the President’s Men — but you never can tell.

  4. Vivien Horton says:

    Great reviews – need to pick up Big Little Lies again, bought the book but need to give it another go after your review! Thanks Susan!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Vivien, I hope you are surviving winter, it’s been rough here! The TV series Big Little Lies is worth watching, get it if you can. take care.

  5. I enjoyed Big Little Lies in print, but have yet to watch the series. My daughter bought the book while she was here visiting… a good page-turner for the beach she said. Don’t think she’s finished it yet.

    The Post ended its run at the tiny island cinema… sold out every day. Now I definitely need to go over to the mainland to see it!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Oh too bad you didn’t get to see The Post! But I’m sure you’ll see it another time. I think you would like the Big Little Lies TV series. Or perhaps you can wait till your daughter is done with the book & watch it together. It is a decent beach read. Enjoy your Sanibel time.

  6. Judy Krueger says:

    Another great post from Canada!
    I avoided Big Little Lies because of all the hype. Now I am tempted and even more tempted to watch the adaptation because I love all three actresses.
    The Post! Wow, what a movie. I figured you would find much to love.
    Being the original non-athelete, I have not gotten into the Olympics but my husband is watching and reporting highlights to me.
    Stay warm.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Judy! I think I was all over with this post. Ha. I must be adrift. But let me know if you see The Post movie or the Big Little Lies series. Pretty entertaining stuff. And I admit being sucked into the Olympics. Your husband is on the right track with that. Oh and I finished The Power and it’s wild!

  7. Amy Brandon says:

    I enjoyed reading Big Little Lies but haven’t seen the show. I loved The Post and will definitely put Graham’s autobiography on my TBR list.

  8. Sue Anderson says:

    I’ll just comment on “Personal History” by Katharine Graham. I read it years ago and really enjoyed it…. Super read.
    Thanks again for your blog Susan!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Good to hear from you Sue. I think I remember you talking about “Personal History” — so good you liked it too. It really is quite a read. I probably should reread it soon. I think I read it back in the 90s. Hope you all are well and that we get to see you soon.

  9. Sarah says:

    I have been trying to get to the theater to see “The Post.” Maybe this afternoon…?? I don’t know what Spielberg’s impetus in getting the movie out so fast was but there has been much published about the Pentagon Papers and a number of films made about them. Daniel Ellsberg, even at 87, remains very active, having recently authored a book about secret documents surrounding U.S. nuclear policy. Did you know that James Spader portrayed him in the 2003 film The Pentagon Papers? I know you like Spader so maybe you saw that one….At any rate, I’ll see anything starring Meryl & Tom and Katherine Graham’s autobiography might be my favorite ever. Thanks for the review.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi — I didn’t know that James Spader was in a movie called The Pentagon Papers. That must have flown under the radar. Meryl & Tom are worth seeing in this, but it can wait till you get to it. I think this movie works in a bit of the feeling & background info of Graham’s autobiography. It seems to use it. That part about KG actually seemed more captivating to me than the whole plot about the Pentagon Papers. The rise of KG interested me most. I could’ve used more of it in the movie! Just her personal story.

  10. John Wright says:

    Glad to get “The Post” review from a Post insider!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Wahoo. See, I finally got my review of it up. It’s like I told Sarah up above: I liked the parts about Mrs. Graham in the movie best, though the whole Pentagon Papers was an interesting trigger. Clearly the movie is talking too to the Trump era.

  11. I’ve seen/read all of these, Susan. I know not everyone liked Big, Little Lies, but I really did and was nervous to see what they’d do with the series. Thankfully, I thought the changes worked and it was fun to watch. I hadn’t heard about Meryl Streep in a second season. That sounds fun.

    I also thought The Post was great, but was a little surprised. I thought Katherine Graham would have been more involved and more of a powerhouse early on. I hadn’t realized that she sort of fell into her position.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Susie, thanks for your thoughts. Yes, Mrs. Graham sort of had to learn the ropes as a publisher & boss quickly because her husband who owned the paper killed himself & it sort of all fell into her hands. Apparently that was about 8 years before the Pentagon Papers but still she was coming into her own I think. Glad you liked the book & series Big Little Lies too. I thought it entertaining & it took a stand against some darker issues too.

  12. Ti Reed says:

    I haven’t picked up Big Little Lies for the same reasons you listed. I guess I need to pick it up now because it sounds pretty good.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Ti: The story of the three women’s lives kept me going in Big Little Lies. And the HBO series is pretty addicting. We got Season 1 and went thru it quickly.

  13. Brona says:

    I’m glad you found Big Little Lies the pure entertainment that I found it to be 🙂

    As you know she is my go-to light relief, holiday/comfort read, except I’ve now read them all!! Will have to wait for her new book later this year.

    Several friends have also seen and raved about The Post…hope to get it soon.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Brona, yes it was entertaining. I’ll be curious about Moriarty’s new book for sure. And I hope you like The Post movie. Cheers.

  14. Michelle says:

    I started watching The Americans back when it first started but stopped for some reason. I keep telling my husband that we need to watch it together. I know he would enjoy it.

    I have not watched the TV version of Big Little Lies. The story is a good one, and I really enjoyed the book. I think it is one of those stories though where once is enough for me. I am also a little tired of beautiful/wealthy/the 1-percenters behaving badly stories.

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