Fiona Lowe weaves an extraordinary story of loss, love, and forgiveness.
I had never read anything by Fiona Lowe before, but had heard somewhere that her writing has similarities to Liane Moriarty, another Australian author known for Big Little Lies. Considering how much I had enjoyed Moriarty’s books, I had tentative high hopes for Just an Ordinary Family. Thankfully, this book has lived up to the hype.
The story follows the lives of several people simultaneously: Alice Hunter, who is back in her small-town home after a breakup, floating between jobs, navigating the online dating scene and trying not to feel jealous of her twin sister Libby’s perfect life; Libby Hunter, a successful doctor with a doting husband and two daughters; Jess, Libby’s best friend and a single mother with a rough childhood; and Karen, Alice and Libby’s mother, wanting the best for her children but also painfully aware that adults need to make their own choices and mistakes. Each has a secret that would upend the world of the others, and the hint of these secrets is one of the ways Lowe masterfully keeps readers turning page after page. Add in small town life, the perils of online dating, and a betrayal that upheaves the very foundation of these women’s lives, and you have the recipe for an incredibly moving story of loss, love, and forgiveness.
Lowe weaves character development and complexity with stunning finesse, showing the layers of each of these characters and allowing the reader to understand and sympathise with each character. Every chapter moves to a different point of view and even though the chapters aren’t labelled, it is clear from the first sentence which character’s mind you are occupying. The chapters are a reasonable length, so there is time to settle into each character and experience a reasonable amount of plot development before moving to another character.
If there is one flaw in this book, it was that the ending comes across as rather cheesy and a little overly soliloquising. Alice’s narrative comes to a close and she spends nearly a page of internal monologue about the true meaning of love, which seems out of place compared to how the rest of her narrative was written, and in fact the rest of the novel. This was, however, one small blip in an otherwise addictive read.
With over 500 pages and topics that some readers may find triggering (miscarriage, early menopause, substance abuse), this story is not a light read, but it is one that proved difficult to put down.
Reviewed by Kristin Stefanoff
Distributed by: Harper Collins
Released: February 2020