Liz Trenchard is an experienced pediatrician with a duty to protect all children admitted to her busy emergency room When Jess Curtis, an affluent, stay-at-home mother, turns up at the ER one night with her baby girl, she immediately prompts suspicion. The ten-month-old has a blow to the head her mother doesn’t seem to have noticed, and Jess has a story that doesn’t stack up.
Meanwhile, Liz is riddled with doubt as she confronts secrets held by her mother, whose neglect not only led to a childhood tragedy involving her brother but raises questions about another baby Liz half-remembers from thirty-five years ago.
While I didn’t particularly enjoy reading Anatomy of a Scandal, I did really like Sarah Vaughan’s writing so I was happy to pick up a copy of her new book Little Disasters when it was released and I enjoyed it so much more.
The plot centres around Liz Trenchard, a paediatrician, who is horrified when her close friend, Jess Curtis, arrives in hospital with her ten month old baby daughter, Betsey, who has been vomiting. After examining the baby, Liz is alarmed to discover a serious head injury which does not fit the story Jess is telling. Forced to report the matter to social services as per hospital policy, Liz watches helplessly as Jess’s own behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. However, when Jess is finally diagnosed with post natal depression, Liz can’t help feeling guilty she didn’t recognise the signs and it triggers long buried memories from her own childhood involving her abusive mother.
Liz and Jess are also part of a wider group of mothers who became friends when they were expecting their first child. Their lives have changed a lot since that first meeting, however the situation with Jess affects them in different ways and they resent Liz for reporting Jess in the first place. I really felt for Liz as she was torn between her need to support her friend and her professional obligation to protect Betsey. Additionally, Liz is struggling to cope with the deteriorating health of her mother to whom she had never been close but can’t entirely bring herself to abandon completely. Liz has to confront horrible memories of how her own mother’s neglect left her younger brother with horrific burn scars. Yet, Liz also realises there must have been a reason for her mother’s alcoholism and is startled when a family secret suddenly comes to light.
We are also given Jess’s point of view in this story and it is a powerful reminder about how we never really know what’s going on with people behind their carefully constructed images. Jess, a glamorous stay at home mum, seems to have it all but her constant strive for perfection is starting to have serious consequences on her mental health and the arrival of a third child tips over her carefully balanced home life. It is quite distressing to read about Jess’s decline as she obsesses over the health of her children, the cleanliness of her home and being a dutiful wife to a husband who can hardly be classed as supportive. There are times when Jess fantasises about harming her daughter to the extent she manages to convince herself she has really done something to her and its quite harrowing to read. I’m not going to reveal whether Jess was responsible for Betsey’s accident or not as there is a lot more to the story and the layers need to be peeled back carefully.
It’s quite distressing to read about the darker side of motherhood as the women in this book have all endured some form of stress in relation to raising their children, whether it be loss of sleep, incessantly crying babies, or just juggling different aspects of life. There are some interesting twists along the way which will leave you unsettled but it just adds to the complexity.