Nine Perfect Strangers: Liane Moriarty Tackles our Unfaltering Quest for Self-Betterment

You know that you’ve found yourself a distinguished read when upon unsticking the resistant new cover from the first page, you opt to make a trip to the place of its very origination, even if it happens to be on the other side of the world. To briefly rewind about half a year into the past, a friend and I started a book club. Libby is one of my very best friends, though we’ve only met in person twice. Nonetheless, upon crossing paths, we were immediately able to penetrate through the superficiality of commonplace human interaction, and I walked away from our first encounter feeling as though we understood each other at a level much deeper than most. For our “two year anniversary,” we decided to make a trip to Montreal, Canada. Over a glass of wine in Old Montreal, we mused over simple things that would make our lives happier: better friends, more frequent exercise, and bounteous books. To elaborate, we both had been struggling with difficult, shallow friendships; had a tendency to indulge in fast food after an evening on the dance floor – which we happened to do both nights during our stay in Montreal, yet on these occasions we masked the indulgence with a need try Canadian McDonald’s – and not particularly like ourselves for it the next day; and sought a sort of excuse to get back into reading. As wine oftentimes has a tendency to bring about wondrous ideas (that mind you, oftentimes don’t come to fruition), we decided to craft a virtual book club. It’s called: Sisterhood of the Traveling Books. Yes, it’s certainly a tad cheesy, but the name encapsulated our desire to build stronger and healthier relationships while also relishing in our love of books. (The exercise resolutions were left at bay for the time being, though stationary biking while simultaneously reading is certainly a viable solution to this omission.) Upon receiving my first book in the mail from another sister, I was elated. Receiving packages in the mail is truly a sensational experience, especially when said package is not the result of a mid-morning online shopping binge. Upon eagerly tearing open the package, the book Nine Perfect Strangers fell to the ground, as a small white sheet of paper slipped out of the front cover reading, “Dear Bridget, Enjoy this amazing book written by a great Australian author. I hope you can make it to Australia one day!” A few days later, I decided to make a trip Down Under.

While Nine Perfect Strangers is written by the Australian author Liane Moriarty, by no means does one need to travel to Australia to comprehend or experience any part of the book in its entirety. However, if you happen to be looking for an excuse to make a new journey, by all means, use this as one (just as I purposed the little white sheet of paper as my personal alibi) to witness the beauty that Australia has to offer. Whether it’s boating in the Sydney Harbour, visiting the Taronga Zoo (first time I’ve ever seen an elephant close-up!), or taking a trip to the Reef, Australia has so much to offer, including this wonderful author and her captivating writing.

Liane Moriarty is best known for her HBO Television series Big Little Lies, which evolved from her best-selling novel. In Big Little Lies, Moriarty fantastically coordinates and navigates the lives of three very distinct and dominant protagonists. Meanwhile, in Nine Perfect Strangers, she gracefully weaves readers in and out of the lives of nine intricate and unique individuals. These nine individuals are united by one seemingly simple desire: to change their lives. Their paths cross throughout a wellness program at the Tranquillum House, directed by Masha. Masha encourages each individual to adhere to her strict diets, meditation sessions, enforced silences, alongside other unprecedented practices. The backgrounds of these nine individuals by no means prepared them for these stringent guidelines. From a middle-aged romance novelist caught in an online catfishing scam and a husband and wife attempting to salvage their marriage after winning the lottery, to a recently divorced mother of four alongside a family of three, a married couple and Zoe, mourning the suicidal death of Zach, Zoe’s twin, everyone brings a unique story to the Tranquillum House. Together, these individuals, while coming from all walks of life, align perfectly in one single, simplistic aspect: their humanity.

While several reviews critique Moriarty’s lengthy beginning, attesting that the unravelling of the characters and their respective plotlines was simply too lengthy, I would have to counter these opinions. The introductions of these nine individuals, and the following weaving-together of their lives and unfolding the dynamics between them certainly does claim a good amount of real estate, yet Moriarty does this for good measure. Each of these nine personalities brings a distinct purpose to the plotline, and it is imperative to maintain an acute understanding of each as the action unfolds.

Speaking of action, the latter-most-common facet of criticism towards this book revolves around the absence of a compelling plotline. Patty Rhule, a founding editor of USA Today writes, “Nine Perfect Strangers is set at the Tranquillum House, a resort that promises life-altering results for the residents who make their way past kangaroo roadkill to get there. But it takes an awfully long time for this spa treatment to take effect: More than 200 pages of character development pass before the action really begins. And these characters aren’t particularly compelling. Frances, a blowsy romance novelist, is smarting from multiple rejections: Her publisher spurned her new book, she got an especially stinging review and she has been victimized by an online catfishing scheme that cost her dearly. Tony is a beer-bellied former football star who encounters Frances mid-hot flash along the side of the road in a menopausal meet cute. Jessica is a social-media and plastic surgery-obsessed lottery winner, seeking marriage therapy with her mechanic husband Ben. Carmel is a single mom of four who was dumped for a younger woman by her bored hubby. Lars is a gorgeous gay divorce lawyer.”

In response to this review, I concur that the characters themselves certainly depict your run-of-the-mill human beings in most developed countries, and therefore are rendered confronting commonplace problems: divorce, rejection, bankruptcy, familial loss, body shame, and depression. Instead of painting an exotic, enticing image of several individuals who’ve undergone inconceivable trials and tribulations, Moriarty paints characters who most, if not all of her readers, can relate to. The novel therefore provokes deep inner reflection, yet is neither abstruse nor pedantic. Through these familiar characters, Moriarty delves deep into humankind’s quest for self-improvement and why we oftentimes seek help from others as opposed to our inner selves. While Moriarty does not necessarily provide the answers to these pervasive questions, she compels each of us to find our own responses to them. Namaste.

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