“That’s the secret of a happy marriage: step away from the rage.”
Liane Moriarty’s engaging novel, Apples Never Fall is a tale of marriage, family dynamics, and buried resentments. The story unfolds through 2 timelines: 69 year-old Joyce Delaney is missing. She sent a garbled text to her 4 children saying she was going ‘off grid,’ but that’s very unlike Joyce. Stan, Joyce’s husband for 50 years isn’t the one to report his wife missing, and that seems strange, but then they weren’t on the best of terms. The second timeline goes back to some months earlier when a young, distressed girl comes knocking at the Delaney home, looking for help, late at night. The chapters then go back and forth in time.
Stan and Joyce were tennis champions who owned their own tennis school, complete with cafe. Joyce, a veritable dynamo, raised 4 children while still playing tennis and running the school. Now Stan and Joyce are newly retired, and Joyce is adjusting to domestic life with Stan. Their busy, active life used to be full of obligations, constant diversions and interruptions. But now Stan sits in the recliner, nursing his knees, watching TV and munching crackers while Joy constantly listens, via headphones, to podcasts. She also accompanies a widowed neighbour to a creative writing course on how to write your memoirs. Joyce hasn’t written hers yet (and is only in the class for the neighbour’s sake) but in spite of her lack of intent, Joyce already has a title “Regret […] A Regretful Life by Joy Delaney.”
All the Delaney children were/are excellent tennis players, but none of them became champions. Each one bears the burden of a childhood spent training, winning and losing matches along the way.
When he was a kid, all he’d wanted to do was to beat his older brother in anything and everything. It was the point of his entire existence. Winning his first match against Logan had felt like a cocaine high except just like cocaine, it also made him feel sick. He always remembered with resentment and mystification how nausea had tainted the edge of his win, how he’d gone to have a shower to cool off and thought he was fine, but then he lost his temper with a tennis kid who had wandered through the back door of their house. He hated it so much when kids thought their kitchen was a clubhouse facility. It was almost like he’d felt guilty for beating his brother, as if being two years older gave Logan a lifelong right to win against Troy.
In adulthood, all 4 children have tangled issues with relationships. Amy, the eldest, a “free spirit,” can’t keep a job, or maintain a relationship. She’s spent a lifetime in therapy with no end in sight. Her younger sister, Brooke, who is “too driven,” is separated from her husband. A physical therapist with her own struggling PT clinic, Brooke gave up tennis due to blinding, painful migraines. Troy, freshly divorced, now an extremely successful trader, sabotaged his marriage and now regrets it. Logan’s longtime girlfriend just dumped him. Logan, a professor, has decided he’s going to give up dating and that way he won’t lose again. Each of Delaney children are shaped by competitive tennis.
“So been on the court lately?” Troy gave Logan a speculative look. It had been years since they’d played each other. Logan gave an irritated exhalation as if Troy had asked this same question multiple times before which he was pretty sure he had not.
“No, not for a while now.”
“Why not?” asked Troy genuinely interested. “Not even with mum and dad?“
“No time,” Logan fiddled with his left wrist as if to indicate an invisible watch.
“No time?” repeated Troy, “what a crock of shit. You’ve got time to burn.” Logan shrugged. Then he said suddenly as if he couldn’t help himself. “I don’t get how you play socially.” He said socially like the word smelled.
“I enjoy it,” said Troy truthfully. He had friends he played with on a semi-regular basis both in Sydney and New York. They were all former competitive players like him. He won maybe 70% of the time.
“Keeps me fit. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“You’re saying you don’t care if you win or lose?”
Now that Stan and Joyce are on their own, it’s dull. Life has changed in retirement; “Last year they had sold their business, and it felt like everything ended, juttered to a stop.” But late one night, there’s a knock at the door and a young girl, Savannah, claims she’s escaping an abusive relationship and just happened to arrive, by cab, at their home. Naturally Stan is suspicious, but Joyce cannot turn the girl away, and that decision is partly to spite Stan. Savannah stays, cooking marvelous meals. What was supposed to be a temporary measure turns permanent. ….
The detective investigating Joyce’s disappearance questions each of the children and, the husband of course. Stan’s reactions aren’t right, and the detective senses that Stanley knows more than he’s saying. Then there are the kids …. who find themselves taking sides in this situation. The investigation brings the siblings together with each one slipping into old familiar roles as they “regressed,” into old rivalry.
This well paced novel examines the Delaney family dynamics and the powerful resentments that lurk under the surface of a long-term marriage. The Delaney children have complicated feelings–jealousy, resentment, and anger–towards their parents when it comes to Harry Hadad, their father’s star pupil. The children all have a love/hate relationship with tennis–admiring the game but resenting the other players who took their dad’s attention–and that isn’t helped by the fact that Stan took the side of his most promising protégé who cheated in a match against Troy. Family politics are complicated at the best of times but add competitive tennis and the tennis students, sometimes gifted children, who suck up the parents’ time. Outsiders probably envied the Delaney children, and while they were certainly lucky in many ways, they all paid a price when it came to tennis. There’s the underlying knowledge that the Delaney children never met their father’s expectations, and then there are Stan’s mysterious disappearances. …
The characters are all well done, and these 4 may be siblings but they all have different approaches to life: Troy throws money at problems, lives an incredibly lavish lifestyle, and can’t understand why his siblings don’t envy him. Logan has a problem committing to the woman he loves, and sets his sights comfortably low. Amy can’t settle down and Brooke is tightly wound, seemingly perfect but always stressed out. The siblings’ competitive relationships with each other play a role in the tale too as the search for Joyce continues.
Sometimes Logan saw something in a woman that Troy didn’t see straight away. When they were in their late teens, they both dated girls called Tracy, and Troy developed a secret, shameful crush on Logan’s Tracy. She was the superior Tracy. The worst part was Troy had met Logan’s Tracy first, so he could have made a move, but he didn’t see her appeal until Logan saw it.
This was an excellent read, with an overly long-drawn out ending the only negative. I listened to the audio book version which was read by Caroline Lee. Caroline Lee is Australian and it was easy for me to imagine that I was listening to Joyce.
Big Little Lies was made into a series, as was Nine Perfect Strangers. Apples Never Fall would be perfect for a TV series.