Study Guide

Napoleon Marconi in Nine Perfect Strangers

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Napoleon Marconi

Napoleon’s a lot like his namesake—a natural-born leader. But that’s not because he’s a teacher or because he’s out in front giving instructions. It’s because he feels a responsibility to others. Even after the death of his son, Zach:

He must not break. It was his job to heal, to be there for his wife and his daughter, to get through this. So he studied the literature, he bought books online and read every word, he downloaded podcasts, he Googled the research. He attended the Tuesday night Survivors of Suicide group as faithfully as his mother once went to Sunday mass, and now he ran the group. (Heather and Zoe
thought he talked too much, but that was only in social situations. On Tuesday nights he hardly spoke a word; he listened and he listened on his foldout chair and did not flinch while a tsunami of pain crashed all around him.) He gave speeches to parent groups and schools and did radio interviews and edited an online newsletter and helped with fundraising. (26.46)

Napoleon seeks comfort from others who have been in the same situation as him—parents whose children have committed suicide. Maybe that’s because he’s super social. Napoleon just loves to talk. Or maybe it's because his wife and daughter just won’t confide in him anymore.

Of course, Napoleon isn’t enjoying his grief. He also blames himself for Zach’s death. If only he hadn’t hit the snooze button on his phone. He would have woken Zach up that morning and he’d still be alive. It’s awful. But Napoleon’s getting by. His time at Tranquillum House changes all that.

Napoleon has a terrible reaction to the drugs that Masha gives him, and it changes his outlook totally. He starts to have very different thoughts. Very depressive thoughts. And, suddenly, he can understand why Zach took his own life. Maybe he understands a little too well.

But Napoleon is nothing if not strong. He’s going to keep himself together. He will get help for his issues. He’s not going to break. He needs to continue being a leader for Heather and Zoe.

But, in the end, Heather lets him know it’s okay to feel angry. It’s okay to be upset with her for not double-checking the side effects of Zach’s asthma medicine. And it’s okay to be mad at Zoe for not mentioning to him that Zach had been feeling sad in the days before his suicide.

With that new-found knowledge, Napoleon finally breaks:

“Does that make you happy? Is that what you wanted to hear? Yes, I am angry because when I asked you about side effects for a medication you were giving my child you should have checked!”

“I should have checked,” she said quietly.

He grabbed his phone from the bedside table. “And I shouldn’t have pressed snooze on this f****** piece-of-sh** phone!”

He threw it against the wall. (75.144-147)

Sometimes anger can be healing. Pain can be transformative. And smashing your iPhone can just feel good. Way to grow, Napoleon.

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