Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
(HarperCollins, $21.95, PG) ISBN 0-06-058612-5
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The seafood restaurant in Sydney is packed full of customers trying to mind their own business but unable to ignore the scene developing before them.  Three sisters are celebrating their birthdays – each with their own cake, no less – when their celebration turns ugly.  Voices are raised, words are exchanged, and one of the women throws a fork, which lodges itself in her sister’s very pregnant belly.  The fork thrower subsequently faints.  The restaurant patrons have no idea what is going on, but they won’t soon forget this night!  

Welcome to the world of the Kettle triplets, as brought to glorious life by debut novelist Liane Moriarty.  Three Wishes takes the standard Chick Lit genre, multiplies it by three, and adds enough quirky touches to make the book stand out above the pack.  I haven’t been this excited by a new genre author since I was first introduced to Marian Keyes’s Watermelon almost 6 years ago.   

After the infamous restaurant prologue scene, narrated by the astonished observers, Moriarty returns to the moment, seven months earlier, when things started to unravel for the 33 year old triplets.  Unsentimental, short-tempered Cat Kettle is watching a television drama with her husband when an inadvertent comment about the program inspires him to confess to a one-time infidelity.  Can a marriage already strained by the couple’s inability to conceive survive this bombshell?  Meanwhile, organized, no-nonsense Lyn Kettle is having her own problems.  Although her marriage is strong, she is stressed to the breaking point by her willful toddler daughter, hostile teenage stepdaughter and the demands of her successful breakfast catering business.  And sweet, ditsy Gemma Kettle is about to jump into another relationship with a promising man, knowing full well that by the six month mark she will have developed the same commitment-phobia that has doomed the fourteen boyfriends who have passed through her life since the untimely death of her fiancé Marcus eleven years ago.   

The story unfolds with a great deal of energy, humor and heartfelt but not overly sentimental emotion.  The sisters love each other deeply and are always rushing to support each other – sometimes to the dismay of the men in their lives – but their very different personalities mean they also fight without mercy.  Occasional flashbacks demonstrate how the triplets’ distinct roles were established in early childhood when their parents divorced.  Cat sided with their sunny and irresponsible father and Lyn with their exhausted and somber mother, while Gemma tried in vain to make everyone happy.  The news that their divorced parents are dating again after years of polite distance is another factor that causes the girls to realize that their roles are not necessarily set in stone.   

Relationships begin and end, work ebbs and flows, and one of the Kettles becomes pregnant while another becomes a stalker.  Their stories will be familiar to Chick Lit readers, but the unique triplet dynamics give the book an interesting twist.  Moriarty also employs a unique plot device; every so often she inserts a short reminiscence by a nameless stranger who observed the triplets at some point in their childhood or adult lives and was affected in some way by what they saw.  These vignettes let the reader see the triplets from afar, in contrast to the more intimate regular narrative, and also serve as a reminder that even the smallest interaction with strangers can have a lasting impact.   

By the time the restaurant incident takes place for real, the reader fully understands the missing pieces that the customers could only guess at.  At this point you will care about these characters despite their flaws, and will be laughing and crying along with them.  The end of the book finds all three of the triplets in a better place than they were seven months ago, although not necessarily in a fairy-tale happy-ending sort of way.   

If I could have three wishes for Liane Moriarty, I would first wish that this sparkling debut novel receive the positive buzz it so richly deserves.  Then I’d wish for her to write another novel that is just as satisfying.  And finally I’d wish that she could be as happy as I was when I finished Three Wishes with a smile on my face. 

 

--Susan Scribner


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