The book Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty tells the story of three families. Erica and Clementine been great friends since childhood. The third woman, Tiffany, is a neighbor of Erica.
Erica and Oliver
Erica and Oliver have gone through several unsuccessful rounds of IVF and decide to get an egg donor. The obvious choice is Clemantine, Erica’s friend since childhood. They became friends because Clementine’s mother felt bad for Erica, who had no friends in elementary school. They’ve remained friends through the years, but mostly out of a feeling of responsibility. When Erica and Oliver ask Clementine and Sam about having an egg donated from Clementine, the response is not encouraging.
On the same day as the donor conversation, the two couples are invited to Erica’s neighbors, Vid and Tiffany for a barbecue. Erica overhears Clementine telling her husband that she did not want to donate an egg to Erica, that she was revolted by the idea. Erica clearly remembers this after the party although her memory is foggy otherwise due to her having drank too much alcohol while taking medication; she was supposed to take half of the tablet but took a whole one.
During the barbeque, Dakota, the hosts’ daughter, spends some time playing with Clementine’s and Sam’s daughters, Holly and Ruby. When Dakota disappears from the barbecue to read her book, the adults notice, but are too distracted by their own conversations (about Tiffany’s past stripping days) The little one, Ruby, steals her sister’s blue purse which holds her rocks. Holly starts to chase her. To escape, Ruby climbs up on the fountain. The curmudgeonly neighbor, Harry, is the first one to notice Ruby in the fountain, as he looks out an upstairs bedroom window. He indicates the fountain to Erica when they make eye contact but because of her drugged state, it takes her a while before she notices that the floating red coat in the fountain belongs to Ruby. Harry, concerned for Ruby decides that he needs to help her. As he tries to run down the stairs, he slips and falls. It’s weeks before anyone notices, and by then, it’s too latee
When Erica realizes that the red coat is actually Ruby, she drops the plates she’s carrying, calls for Clementine and runs and jumps into the fountain. Oliver also notice what’s going on and he and Erica rescue Ruby from the fountain. She is not breathing but they perform CPR. When the ambulance arrives, the paramedics take Ruby (with Sam) to the hospital. Tiffany then drives Clementine to the hospital, which Holly goes home with Oliver and Erica.
Erica falls asleep, drugged and drunk shortly after they go home. This is when Holly whispers her secret, that she pushed Ruby. He consoles her and tells her he’ll keep her secret. Later that night, Holly also tells her grandparents when they come to pick her up, and they console her, telling her she probably hadn’t really pushed her sister, that her sister must have slipped.
After the Barbecue
After the accident, both couples learn more about each other and themselves. Clementine and Sam initially blame each other. Sam moves out of the bedroom and she starts to contemplate separation. But then same comes across a mom with her two children, where the stroller almost rolled into the street with one child as she tended to another. This helps him see the accident in a new light. When he and Clementine talk after that, they indicate that they are still commited to each other and theeir marriage.
Erica’s mother is a hoarder, so Erica maintains fierce control over her life. In the aftermath of the accident, Oliver finds Erica’s stash of items that she stole from Clementine over the years since they were children. He confronts her and tells her that she needs to speak to her shrink and to return the stolen items. Although Clementine had agreed to be a donor, they thought that her decision was due to the fact that they rescued her daughter. They saw it as a bargain, and were uncomfortable with that. Oliver suggests they look into fostering instead.
Vik and Tiffany
Vik and Tiffany are both successful business people and are happy together. He takes care of his daughters from his previous wife, who calls to ask for things regularly, and of Dakota, who asks for nothing. Dakota will be starting grade 9 at the private school that his older kids went to in the fall.
In order for Dakota to attend the private school, the family had to attend a session at the school. There, Tiffany met a nice lady, but then realized that the lady’s husband used to be a client when she was a stripper. He was the guy she’s sleep with, for $100,000, the money that let her start her successfully real estate business. She’d known he was married but never thought of his wife before.
Weeks later, Tiffany runs into the wife again while waiting to purchase school uniforms for Dakota. The woman tells her that they are moving to Dubai for at least 5 years, and gives her the uniforms she was about to return. She explains that she’d prefer not to encounter the other school parents who work at the store.
The Ending of the Story
The story in the book goes back and forth in time. We know that something momentous happened at the barbecue, but it takes a long time to find out. Also, Erica has lost her memory of the evening, and there are still pieces that she is trying to fill out. The missing piece comes to her as she is cleaning her mother’s yard and makes eye contact with a woman looking out an upstairs window. That is when she remembers Harry, and realizes that no one told him Ruby was okay. No one checked on him until weeks had gone by.
Throughout the book, Clementine is preparing for an audition for the orchestra. As Sam is driving her to her audition, they get a chance to talk and acknowledge Sam’s PTSD from Ruby’s accident. Sam agrees to consider speaking to a therapist, which provides hope for their relationship.
Oliver and Erica have decided to take a six months trip around the world. Their paperwork is in progress for them to be foster parents when they return. They announce this to Clementine in a letter, where Erica included a photo of the two of them having fun on a roller coaster with Erica’s mother. She’d taken the girls out of school for a fun day, a belated celebration of Erica’s birthday, which she’d forgotten. The photo shows a mix of terror and excitement for life. Clementine realizes that she really doesn’t know Erica that well, that Erica keeps her life restrained.
Vik and Tiffany are happy together. Vik knows that she lied when she said she didn’t sleep with any of her clients before they met, but he lets it go. It was before their time and they are happy together. It helps that the particular client who raised the question in him is moving to Dubai for work, so they won’t have to run into him at Dakota’s school.
Harry’s home is being cleaned by his nephew. As Vik, Tiffany and Dakota go out for a walk, the nephew steps out of the house to give Dakota an old globe that he found in the house. Vik invites him over but Tiffany firmly reminds him that they are going out for a walk.