Continued analysis of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers as part of the DIY MFA Writer Igniter Reading Challenge. For more details click here.
Early in a novel, an author should provide five promises: the main character, the voice, the world, the problem, and the event. What follows is my analysis of Moriarty’s five promises in Nine Perfect Strangers.
Promise 1: The main character is Frances Welty. My response to prompt 2 provides more information about this. But interestingly, Frances was not introduced until chapter 2.
Promise 2: The voice in the book is third-person limited. While Moriarty favors her main character, Frances, as being the dominant voice, she starts each chapter with a different character’s name, thus a different voice (but always third-person limited). Initially, I thought we would read from each of the nine perfect strangers’ voices, the enrollees at the Tranquillum House health retreat. This likely will happen, but we have also already read from the POV of two retreat employees as well.
Promise 3: The world is our contemporary world, but more specifically it is the Tranquillum House, a sandstone Victorian mansion seemingly hours away from civilization (the early chapters detailed various characters’ frustration with the long drive). Despite its remoteness, the Tranquillum House has many luxury features. Chapter six is predominately a world-building tour of the house. Two details revealed during Frances’s tour of the house seem ominous for later in the plot. First, the retreat is screenless and everyone has turned in their devices. However, in the yoga & meditation room, there is a screen as part of the “security and intercom system” because “safety of our guests is paramount.” Secondly, the stonemasons who built the place in 1840, presumably as forced prison labor, inscribed their names into the wall. This seems random unless we later find out the retreat is haunted? Still, with the contemporary world setting, I don’t think there will be ghosts?
Promise 4: The problem of the book seems to be that these nine retreat attendees have all arrived to ‘fix’ something in their lives, but most are skeptical that this will work. This skepticism is magnified when a twist to their retreat is revealed: the first five days of the ten-day retreat will be in silence without eye contact or physical touch. This was not noted in the retreat literature and most attendees are skeptical about this. Even the chapter from the resort director’s POV notes this is the first time attempting this.
Promise 5: The event that opens the book initially seems disconnected from the rest of the novel. A businesswoman goes into cardiac arrest in her corner office overlooking the Sydney Opera House and Harbor. Then the next chapter starts “Ten Years Later”. One of the EMTs on the scene of the cardiac arrest reappears in chapter six as an employee of the retreat. Then in chapter nine, it is revealed that the retreat director was the woman having the cardiac arrest and in chapter eleven she credits her health problem for prompting the creation of the Tranquillum House.
Analysis of the Moriarty’s Five Promises:
I find it interesting that the ‘event’, was the only one of the five promises revealed in the first chapter. Granted it was a short first chapter, but this seems almost like a prologue. It has life-threatening drama that creates immediate reader interest. However, the rest of the promises, like the introduction of the protagonist, the world, and the problem, as well as the voice solidification all begin “ten years later’ heading to chapter two.