Wellness Resorts Gone Wrong

Author: Liane Moriarty

Nine strangers are looking for ten restorative days in a fancy health resort. The illnesses range from the physical to the emotional. Each person is seeking an easy fix, a bit of pampering, a rest.

Frances Welty, a-has-been romance novelist recuperating from an embarrassing Internet boyfriend scam and a bad editorial review, is seeking some time at the resort to fix her broken heart, make some friends, and get a little TLC. Dropping a few pounds and getting over this menopause thing – with all of its accompanying indignities – would be nice too.

The Marconi family has an entirely different heartache to overcome. There is Napoleon Marconi, the talkative, friendly, understanding head of the family, a schoolteacher; his angry, stand-off-wife Heather; and his young daughter Zoe; and trailing along with them, is the ghost of their dead son. It’s been three years, the anniversary of his suicide is coming up, and this little family wellness trip can hardly make up for the loss, the grief, the rage, and the brokenness of a once happy family.

These are the main characters of the nine – with a few others popping in and out with their problems – some more interesting than others.

We have an older woman, Caramel, whose husband left her. Caramel is obsessed with losing weight, to the exclusion of everything else in life. She’s a stereotype for women who only see their own worth in appearance, in a facsimile of youth, and in pleasing a man.

We have the young couple who hit it big on the lottery and can’t deal with the success. The husband, Ben, loves his new car more than anything and the wife has taken the plastic surgery and social media frenzy to a whole new level. Money, as they say, can’t buy happiness, despite what Instagram tells you.

There’s Tony – a once-upon-a-time athletic star with a ruined career. Frances is sure from his slovenly appearance that he’s a serial killer, but there is more to this Tony than his past. There is a too-late understanding of what really matters.

Image by Thomas Mühl from Pixabay

And finally – a there is the gay divorce attorney, Lars, who is fleeing from partner troubles through yet another health retreat. His boyfriend wants a child, but Lars is haunted by the past, manifesting itself as all types of relationship / commitment phobia.

Into this group of mostly self-centered characters, enters the famous health guru herself – Masha. Masha is a Russian beauty whose near-death experience inspired her to leave the corporate world and help people find themselves. Despite appearances, however, Masha has some problems too, and as the resort gets under way her new protocol becomes extreme. It starts with forced silence and ends with . . . well, you’ll just have to find out.

Despite the imperfections of the book – fairly obvious from the summary – the writing was amazing and more than enough to get me into the outlandish flow of the tale and forgive the saccharine but oh-so-satisfying character revelations. It was even enough to help with the utterly massive – and I do mean massive – number of characters. We have our nine strangers, Masha, and her assistants, rounding it off at 11 main characters, not to mention the unseen characters that are friends or foes of our burgeoning cast. It’s a mess – but somehow, it’s an addictive mess and the most perfect beach read ever. If this is Liane Moriarty in a slump, then I cannot wait to discover her more critically acclaimed works (and yes, this is my first reading of Liane Moriarty).

Frances Welty, a beacon of absurdist comedy and self-effacing over analysis, and the doomed Macaroni family are the main characters. The other characters get some airtime, except for Lars, who gets introduced and then largely forgotten. Frances is an annoying character, a comedic, self-aware influence that quickly becomes a bit too much, but the Macaroni family is deeper, is where the depth and the drama shine. Everyone else’s problems are stereotypical, and while the Macaroni family’s issues are hardly abnormal, they are deeper, more empathetic than people who are too flush with success for their own good, have mommy issues, or really want to lose weight.

Image by Q K from Pixabay

Masha herself is an interesting if unrealistic character. Think James Bond ex-KJB villain with a yin for extreme yoga, floaty clothes, and a serious control disorder. You know where it’s going to go from the very beginning, and Masha’s trauma is the usual stereotype, but still, what can I say, it’s absurd and shallow and yet good. I liked it. I liked the writing. I had fun with it, and I think Nine Perfect Strangers had some fun with itself, tongue-and-cheek like. That’s where ex-author Frances Welty comes into play, a little homage to the semi-ridiculous nature of literature and literary criticism.

As I said, this is beach read material at its best. Ridiculous, but with a heart. You can’t help but like the characters and get into them, cliché as they are. The Macaroni story gives something a little more heartfelt, and heartbreaking, adding some true food for thought into the story. I liked the simplicity and yet color of the words, the way the author brought these characters who should be flat, flat, flat to life and entertained me anyway. I even liked the absurd nature of a rogue health guru going wild, and some elements of the story do have eerie if overdrawn possibility. I liked it. I’ll be checking out Moriarty’s other works. If this is a non-fan favorite, as other ratings and reviews seem to suggest, then I’m excited to see what her best works hold in store. Enjoyable. Recommended.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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