Taking Liane Moriarty’s, “Nine Perfect Strangers” A Bit Further
The day my small-town library shut down because of COVID, I happened to be visiting it. The librarian gave everyone five minutes to check out books, and I scooped up as many that would fit in my bag, with barely a glance at the titles.
It took about ten weeks for me to crack open the novel, “Nine Perfect Strangers”, by Liane Moriarty. Protests and burning cities raged on my television screen and this light, character driven tale fit the distraction bill. But, only a few chapters in, I found myself drowning in a world of TV drama characters that screamed out white privilege louder than any social media post could construct.
I opted to push forward, trading out my reader hat for my writing one; as a sci-fi novelist I’m always on the hunt for elements to improve my craft, and Moriarty is no slouch in this regard. I wanted to see how she played out the growth of her characters. Not only is this a main feature of any good story, she’d made this her main plot line — nine people attend a health retreat that promises to transform them.
This aspect of the novel let me down. It’s not that the characters didn’t grow, just not enough for my taste and in directions I cared about. But, too my surprise, buried in the midst of the plot’s drivel, I stumbled upon a gold nugget. This small treasure took its shape in an underlying theme. It made me think, and I like it when books make me think.
About halfway through the story, the director of the health retreat asks one of her clients, “Do you feel that you’ve ever been truly tested in your life?” The client replies, “I’ve suffered losses.” The director responds, “Of course you have. You are fifty-two years old. That is not my question.”
Later, the health retreat Director traps her nine clients in a horrific situation of her making. She muses, “Only those who have feared they will lose everything feel true gratitude for their lucky lives.” Then she says to her staff member, “We must terrify them . . . that is what they need.”
I’ve often thought my own daily struggles, though significant and steeped with consequences, don’t hold a candle to the choices I’ve witnessed others having to make. In my early twenties, I took a…