17 September 2021

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I was so excited to read this, especially in advance of the Amazon Prime adaptation that's airing weekly now, but it was a really big flop for me (the book and the show). I have loved Moriarty's writing in the past (Big Little Lies, The Husband's Secret) and I really loved the HBO adaptation of Big Little Lies, but something about this plot felt way too out of touch for me even though the writing was still good. Even my sister warned me that this wasn't very good and she's not a huge reader.

The story is about a group of strangers who meet up to participate in a 10-day transformation at a controversial health retreat. Some of them come on their own, but some come as couples or even one group is there as a family. They participate in a number of exercises (cleanses, therapy, hikes, periods of silence, etc.) but eventually, the 'treatment' becomes very experimental as the woman who runs the retreat goes off the deep end. 

Liane Moriarty

He never ceased to be amazed by the obedience of people at these places. They allowed themselves to be dipped in mud, wrapped in plastic, starved and deprived, prickled and prodded, all in the name of 'transformation.'"

All the detail I've always appreciated about Moriarty's writing is still present here. I loved the backstories of each of the participants and how deep and complex she built their characters. Usually, with stories like this where there are multiple characters, I find myself very into some storylines and skimming past others, but in this case, I was equally enthralled with all of them. I was definitely way more into their backstories than the parts of the book that were taking place in the 'present' at the retreat.

My favourites were about Frances who falls victim to an online catfish-money scam type thing, and the Marconi family who is suffering grief and guilt after the death of their son. I am a glutton for punishment and always love to read about grief even though I can't bear a sliver of it myself. 

She could not heal and she refused to even try. She never went to the support group except for that one time. She did not want to hear from other parents who had lost sons because she believed Zach was superior to their stupid sons. Napolean thought Zach was superior to their stupid sons too, but he still found solace in giving back to this community he had never asked to join."

I guess my issue is really with the retreat plot. The woman who runs the place is called Masha. She's Eastern European and very unconventional in her newest methods. Even her staff who have worked for her for years begin to question her sanity applying new 'protocols' to this group of participants. I think just for me personally, I would never spend the money to go to one of these types of retreats and do group therapy with strangers and I especially wouldn't be fasting and doing days of silence, so it felt just very foreign to me in a way that I couldn't get excited about. 

The book builds to a major event during the transformation, all of which seemed incredibly far-fetched. I wondered at points if Masha was going to have 'powers' like the ability to cast spells or something and that is just not the kind of content I care to read about. In the end, she does not have any powers but the spookiness of the possibility was enough for me to not enjoy the book. 

'That's one thing I miss about our old life,' admitted Jessica. 'Before we got rich we didn't ever have to think about whether we were 'good' people, because we didn't have time to be good. We were just paying the bills, getting by, living our lives. It was kind of easier.' She winced." 

A still from the TV adaptation. Nicole Kidman plays Masha.

Scott and I started the adaptation on Prime but didn't continue with it. It has a crazy strong cast (Melissa McCarthy, Nicole Kidman, Michael Shannon, Regina Hall, etc.) so it's really too bad it didn't pan out, especially when the Big Little Lies adaptation was sooooooo good. I wonder if HBO could have done it better or if I just didn't like the plot so I wasn't going to like the adaptation regardless. 

Sometimes your life changes so slowly and imperceptibly that you don't notice it at all, until one day you wake up and think: How did I get here? But other times life changes in an instant, with a lightning stroke of good or bad luck, with glorious or tragic consequences. You win the lottery. You step out onto a pedestrian crossing at the wrong time. You get a phone call from a lost love at exactly the right time. And suddenly your life takes a violent swerve in an entirely new direction."

So far this is my 3rd Moriarty read and my least favourite by far. I will definitely give more of her stuff a try and hope to write this one off as a blip because I do think she's a really talented writer. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. 

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