Study Guide

Nine Perfect Strangers Rule & Order

By Liane Moriarty

Rule & Order

“Just the one,” said Frances. She indicated the back seat. “I can carry it. It’s quite light.” She didn’t want to let the bag out of her sight because she’d packed a few banned items, like coffee, tea, chocolate (dark chocolate—antioxidants!), and just one bottle of a good red (also antioxidants!). (6.24)

Contraband is definitely against the rules. But Frances doesn’t really think this health resort is gonna go through her luggage. What is this? TSA?

“I think we should do it properly,” [Jessica] said. “Don’t you? Even if it sounds stupid, we should just follow the rules and do whatever they say.”

“Fine with me,” said Ben. “As long as they don’t tell me to jump off a cliff.” (7.69-70)

Jessica and Ben have just found out about the five days of silence. They know they can break the rules if they want to, but they decide to go along with it. Hey, it’s not like Masha has audio equipment in their rooms, right? Er...

It would frighten some of them, they would resist, and people would break the silence, accidentally or deliberately. Couples might whisper in their beds, but that was fine. The silence would set the right tone going forward. Some guests treated this place like summer camp. Middle-aged women got overexcited at not having to cook dinner each night. All that high-pitched chatter. If two men became “mates,” you could be sure rules would be broken. (9.5)

Okay, so Masha hasn’t just created these rules out of nowhere. She needs her guests to follow these guidelines because they are essential to their transformation. This isn’t some run of the mill vacation. These people are about to have their lives changed. 

You can say that again.

Napoleon would never forget a rule or regulation, even one as pointless and arbitrary as this. What possible good could come of avoiding eye contact between husband and wife? But Napoleon was deeply respectful of road signs and tiny clauses on bureaucratic forms. For him, rules were about politeness and respect and ensuring the survival of a civilized society. (10.4)

Napoleon’s a teacher, so we kind of get his obsession with rules. Heather’s less sure about why, exactly, she needs to avoid looking at her husband for five days. Oh, she’s a bit of a rebel, this one.

Nobody broke the silence or made eye contact. When Napoleon sneezed again, nobody responded in any way. How quickly people adapted to strange rules and regulations! (14.31)

At first, the guests are really uncomfortable with the silence. Then it becomes second nature. Masha is slowly exerting her control over them with these rules.

Lars saw there was only one empty yoga mat. He was the last guest to arrive. He wondered if he’d made the most fuss about being dragged from his bed. He never ceased to be amazed by the obedience of people at these places. They allowed themselves to be dipped in mud, wrapped in plastic, starved and deprived, pricked and prodded, all in the name of “transformation.” (15.20)

Lars is kind of a health retreat pro, so he’s seen this kind of behavior before. People will go to great lengths if they feel like it will benefit them in some way. Lars says he doesn’t buy into it, but then...why is he here?

In the same way that the silence didn’t apply to Masha, it seemed that neither did the “no electronic devices” rule. Masha did not seem averse to the very latest in technology. She had not one but two very smart-looking oversized computer monitors on her desk, as well as a laptop.

Was she surfing the internet up here while all her guests digitally detoxed? (23.22-23)

What. The. Heck. Masha’s not silent, and she’s probably shopping on eBay while everyone else is being deprived. By setting herself apart from the guests, Masha establishes from the beginning that she’s allowed to break the rules while they are not.

[Frances] dared to look up and the stars were a million darting eyes on the lookout for rule-breaking in her story: sexism, ageism, racism, tokenism, ableism, plagiarism, cultural appropriation, fat-shaming, body-shaming, slut-shaming, vegetarian-shaming, real-estate-agent-shaming. The voice of the Almighty Internet boomed from the sky: Shame on you! (33.30)

Frances is worried about a different set of rules—the ones that come down from the political correctness police. After reading her horrible review, Frances starts to fret that there are all these unspoken rules she’s been breaking all along without meaning to. Maybe she’s not as progressive and open and lovely as she always imagined she was.

Her husband didn’t care when that happened. He found it funny. He had fearlessly dived straight into the social scene before he knew the rules, and people loved him. Masha was proud of him for that, although also a little envious. (65.35)

Unlike her husband, Masha never quite understood the way things worked in her adopted country. People had strange habits and customs that she couldn’t grasp. Masha needed to know the rules first. But now, at Tranquillum House, she makes the rules.

“I am not the sort to become too obsessive about bureaucratic rules. I am flexible! I am big picture!” Masha took a long drag of her cigarette. (67.48)

Oh, Masha. She really is very high right now.

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