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Book Review of Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers
Readnmachine avatar reviewed on + 1418 more book reviews

Moriarty's latest just feels a little formulaic â you take a bunch of characters, give them some internal problems to deal with, put them into close contact with one another, shake things up, and see what happens.

In this case, the characters have all come to an exclusive âhealth retreatâ, each bearing their own set of problems which are ultimately revealed as different types of loss. And during the 10-day stay, they are challenged both from within and from without to acknowledge that loss and come to terms with it.

The regime at the retreat begins as pretty standard â no booze, no sugar, no recreational drugs, and get rid of all your electronics. From there it bounces back and forth between Spartanism and hedonism â attendees get rousted out of bed at dawn for tai chi, but it's followed by a facial and massage; periods of fasting are followed by fresh, wholesome foods beautifully prepared and exquisitely presented; personal counseling sessions are designed to direct the attendees to acknowledge the painful issues they're dealing with and to cope with them in positive ways. It's all very Southern California WooWoo, even though it's set in Australia. But then the program begins to turn sinister until even the most reluctant participants have to admit that something is very, very wrong.

The biggest problem with Nine Perfect Strangers â other than its somewhat shopworn premise â is that the motivating character is (to use the technical term) batshit crazy. Or rather that she descends from run-of-the-mill petty dictatorhood into batshit craziness without apparent cause. Not even the backstory (which isn't revealed until the book's Epilogue) adequately accounts for the break, and the participants' eventual decisions on how to deal with the way the retreat went off the rails simply doesn't feel realistic.

It's not a bad book, really. It's an undemanding read with a few sharp observations here and there and a mostly feel-good resolution. Readers looking for a pleasant weekend companion could do worse, but those looking to be challenged or excited could do much better.

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