On the surface, Frances is a best-selling author with a long and successful career. Why on earth would she come to Tranquillum House looking to transform herself?
Okay, so right off the bat, we find out things are not going so great for Frances. Before she arrives at Tranquillum House, she’s a fifty-something, twice-divorced romance novelist. Her editor won’t be publishing her latest book—her nineteenth—and she’s just read a scathing review of her work, which basically accused her of writing a bunch of formulaic, anti-feminist drivel.
Oh, and did we mention Frances thought she met the man of her dreams, but it turned out it was all just an elaborate internet scam that ended up costing her a ton of money?
So, yeah, she definitely deserves a vacation.
Frances is worried that she is becoming old news. Her lifestyle—being single and childless—isn’t so fun anymore now that she’s in her fifties. She sees her friends with children and grandchildren, and wonders about the choices she’s made. Part of the reason that she was so upset about the fake internet boyfriend is that he pretended to have a 12-year-old son. Frances started to think that maybe she’d like to be a mom. Bummer.
Sure, Frances used to be a best-selling author, but she’s starting to suspect that her best days are over. Maybe that reviewer was right? Frances’s work just isn’t keeping up with the times. After all, Jessica recognizes Frances from high school and Zoe read her book but secretly hated it. And her books just aren’t selling like they used to. Is it time to hang up the paper and pen?
In fact, it’s the feeling that she’s in the “has been” part of her career that connects Frances to Tony.
She felt her perception of Tony shift. He was a man who used to be someone, like Frances used to be someone. They had that in common. Although Frances’s career was slowly fading away, whereas presumably Tony’s had ended officially. (29.93)
Like Tony, Frances feels she’s lost something precious to her—her writing career—before she was ready. The market changed and it left Frances and Tony in the dust. Luckily, they’ve found each other. (Hey, this is starting to sound a bit like one of Frances’s romance novels.)
Frances’s experience at Tranquillum House really does change her. Frances often comes up with many of the solutions in the yoga studio. She’s the one who thinks to look for the clue above them, the one who suggests to check for the unlocked door, and the one who bashes Masha with the candelabra. You go, girl.
And while Frances does find comfort in yet another man at the end of this book—a definite pattern for her—she doesn’t rush into his arms like she’s writing the end of a romance novel:
He got that decisive, focused, I’m going in look men got on their faces when they’d decided it was time to kiss you.
Frances thought of that first kiss at Natalie’s sixteenth birthday party, how incredible and glorious it was, and how that was the boy who ended up telling her that he preferred smaller breasts. She thought of Gillian telling her to stop acting like the heroine of one of her own novels. Tony lived in Melbourne and was no doubt very settled in his life there. She thought of how often she’d moved for a man, how she’d been prepared to pack up her life and move to America for a man who didn’t even exist.
She thought of Masha asking, “Do you want to be a different person when you leave here?”
She said to Tony, “Normally I’d say yes.” (74.86-89)
Okay, Frances and Tony do get married eventually, but only after Tony moves to Sydney for her. And only after eight years. So there. Not formulaic at all.
Frances also gets good news about her writing. Her old editor decides to publish her novel, and Frances turns from straight romance to romantic suspense. Totally new direction. Very fresh and different.
One final and adorable note about Frances Welty: after Liane Moriarty finished this book, her husband told her that people would assume Frances was based on her. And the author said, “That's why I made her completely charming in every way possible.”