“Apples Never Fall” by Liane Moriarty (Henry Holt and Company)
Who knew there were so many tennis metaphors for life? Australian novelist Liane Moriarty shares them all and probably creates a few of her own in “Apples Never Fall.”
Meet the Delaneys, who are sure to be an A-List ensemble cast in the years ahead: There’s Stan, stoic patriarch and erstwhile tennis coach, his wife, Joy, his doubles partner on the court and in life, who managed the family tennis academy for years and is now trying to “retire with grace” and longing for grandchildren. They have four adult children — Troy, Brooke, Logan and Amy — whose childhoods were dominated by the sport that paid all the family’s bills, but who now earn a living outside tennis.
The novel opens with the sibling quartet in a cafe, trying to figure out where their mother could be. She sent a cryptic text to them all and hasn’t been seen for days. She isn’t replying to messages or answering her phone. The narrative then jumps back and forth from the present to “September,” the month of Joy’s disappearance.
We’re quickly introduced to a mystery character, Savannah, who shows up at the Delaneys’ door one night with a “fresh, deep cut just beneath her right eyebrow.” Joy invites her in and mothers her to the point where she’s soon eating casserole and spending the night in Amy’s childhood bed.
We’re also treated to chapters from the perspective of Detective Senior Constable Christina Khoury and her partner, who at the request of two of the Delaney children are now investigating Joy as a “missing person.” Her interviews with all the key characters are intercut with flashbacks to September as the authorities try to piece together the puzzle.
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Moriarty goes deep into each characters’ head as we learn all about their lives and relationships. Forgive the metaphor, but it’s irresistible — you feel like you’re reading a tennis match, turning your head left, right, left, right, as the story unspools. Moriarty is very good at constructing plot, dribbling out details that resurface chapters later to create “aha” moments.
But what makes “Apples Never Fall” a real pleasure to read, and elevates it a little above Moriarty’s two most recent best-sellers and TV hits, “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers,” are the insights into the complexity of family relationships. She’s created a character in Joy who feels real and relatable, whose inner monologue is filled with gems like, “You couldn’t share the truth of your marriage with your adult children. They didn’t really want to know, even if they thought they did.”
By the end of the novel, of course, we all know. It’s a trip well worth taking on the page, before it shows up on a streaming service near you.