What if I told you that you could radically transform yourself — your health, your appearance, your relationships, your career, your emotional state — in just 10 days? What would you do, how far would you go, what would you give up in order to truly change your life? That is what the characters at the center of Nine Perfect Strangers find out in Liane Moriarty's new book. A provocative novel about self-improvement, obsession, and the dark side of change, this twisty read will make you think twice about that juice cleanse you've been meaning to go on.
"'In 10 days, you will not be the person you are now.'" That is the promise — or maybe the warning — health guru and Tranquillum House owner Masha gives to her guests on the first day of their "Mind and Body Total Transformation Retreat." In attendance are a washed up romance novelist recently burned by an online dating scam; a mysterious man whose best days are clearly behind him; a high-powered lawyer and self-proclaimed health retreat junkie; a heartbroken, overworked, recently divorced mother of four; a pair of grieving parents and their devastated daughter; and a young, rich couple willing to try anything to save their failing marriage. Each of the nine guests sought out the luxury health resort for a different reason, but all of them are hoping for the same result: transformation. To get it, they are willing to try just about anything, including new diets, meditation, juice cleanses, yoga, fasts, sustained silence, therapy, and just about anything Masha and the staff at the luxury health retreat recommend.
Masha tells them: “‘On the last day of your stay with us, you will come to me and you will say this: Masha, you were right! I am not the same person I was. I am healed. I am free of all the negative habits and chemicals and toxins and thoughts that were holding me back. My body and mind are clear. I am changed in ways I could never have imagined.’”
Changed they are, but to say how or why wouldn't just be spoilery, it would be cruel. The way Moriarty slowly reveals who her characters are, what they want, and why they are at Tranquillum House is what makes Nine Perfect Strangers such a entrancing read. The way she writes her characters to life, the way she implements shifting perspective to peel back their truths layer by layer to reveal their secrets, motivations, and hidden connections, is what makes this novel a true page-turner.
Of course, because this is a thriller, there is also a record-scratch moment, one that feels more jarring than your average Moriarty plot twist. Luckily, what happens as a result of it and what unfolds after makes up for the otherwise implausible turn of events.
But more that just a satisfying read, Nine Perfect Strangers is a fascinating exploration of our obsession with the idea of wellness and beauty. Moriarty does a thoughtful job dissecting the different ways in which men and women are confronted with it, particularly in how she portrays the higher expectations women are held to by both society and themselves.
"Men often used that phrase: 'drop some weight.' They said it without shame or emotion, as if the weight was an object they could easily put down when they chose," Masha remarks to herself and for the reader. "Women said they needed to ‘lose weight,’ with their eyes down, as if the extra weight was a part of them, a terrible sin they’d committed.” Later, she drives the point home saying "Women and their bodies! They most abusive and toxic of relationships."
For centuries, women have been told they need to look different, to act different, to be different if they want to be accepted and wanted and loved. For centuries, women have been told they need to change, but it is almost impossible to talk about transformation without talking about grief, because to change is to lose a part of oneself. Of course, to lose something or someone important causes irreversible change, too. In both cases, Nine Perfect Strangers manages to approach the subject with both eloquence and compassion.
An early holiday present for Moriarty fans, Nine Perfect Strangers is a darkly comical novel that defies classification. It manages to be wildly funny and richly emotional at the same time, proving that the Big Little Lies author still has a lot to offer her readers.