Well, apparently I've been on a books-that-start-with-Little kick lately. Little Disasters is a good addition to the pile. I loved Anatomy of a Scandal, so I was thrilled to receive an earc of Little Disasters. Vaughan's writing style is crisp and refreshing, and the cover is beautiful.
Liz is an overworked doctor trying to juggle the many aspects of being a working mother. When her friend's baby is admitted presenting with injuries consistent with abuse, Liz finds herself in the middle of a troubling situation. Jess has been her friend for years. A loving, attentive, if not overprotective mother, by all accounts, yet every sign of the injury points to purposeful intent. Told in alternating character perspectives, we're taken on a journey spanning years and forced to ask the uncomfortable question: could a mother harm her child? This was such a quick read that tackles some serious issues with tact and grace. As a mother of two young children, I understand completely the need to put on a happy face, to pretend that motherhood is a constant joy. Social media is weird like that. We all know that what we see on Facebook or Insta isn't the reality of the situation, but we still feel jealous looking at these images, of the celebrity moms who seem to have their shit together immediately after birthing a watermelon. Of the beautiful mothers who get their bodies back effortlessly, who never tire of being with their children, who seem to swell with pride at being stay-at-homes. At the same time, we also want to talk about the realities of mom life, but doing so on social media means sharing innocent things, like baby food disasters or diaper blowouts. Rarely do we ever discuss the mental health issues with such candor and raw honesty. Jess, the mother of the injured baby, is suffering from severe postpartum depression and maternal anxiety. She can't relax in any place where "danger" might arise. She imagines hurting her baby, the many accidents that could happen during an ordinary action as walking down the stairs. I wouldn't call her an unreliable narrator, but her internal dialogue reflecting on her insecurities, doubts, and fears was supposed to cast our doubt about what happened the night Bets was hurt. Motherhood in all its darkness is at the forefront of this novel, and Vaughan accomplishes her objective of raising the important things we might be too scared or dismissive to talk about. How it's important to check up on our friends and family who have just given birth. To offer the kindness of a genuine question if your gut tells you someone looks overwhelmed. There is pressure to enjoy every minute, and a real disconnect between the innocuous advice and the quiet moments when you're alone with a screaming baby running on one hour of broken sleep. Every maternal character in the book experiences this in some form but there's no communication, hiding their questions and longing for connection like a dark secret. I appreciated Vaughan's tackling of the complexities of motherhood, how each birth experience is different and doesn't fit into a pre-fab mold of expectations. I will say that I didn't care much for the subplots between Liz and her mother and brother, and some of the flashback chapters read long and took me out of the fast-paced nature propelling the plot. I also felt the plot was on the predictable side. Even the final twists weren't surprising, yet I don't know if this is necessarily one of those books where not seeing the twists is the important thing. The plot feels more like a device to shed light on these issues rather than a fast-and-true suspense where the mystery needs to be solved. Overall, a quick read with serious issues, I'd recommend this to anyone looking for an emotional look at motherhood. Vaughan's writing is beautiful, and the material practically reads itself. Thank you to Atria and NetGalley for providing an arc in exchange for review consideration.