It’s never been easier to appear perfect, all it takes is the right angle and filter. Yet, the pursuit of perfection doesn’t always push one to greatness, but rather to commit all kinds of ugly. My novel, The Retreat, is set on a wellness retreat where my characters are meant to set themselves on a journey toward perfected versions of themselves but the path quickly warps and the bodies pile up.

Here’s a list of books and movies that feature how striving for perfection can turn toxic and often lethal.

  1. THE PERFECTION (Netflix)

I just watched this the other night and loved it (but then I have a deep affinity for pulpy plotlines and batshit endings.) At first, the story is about a former cellist prodigy named Charlotte who gaslights and harms another gifted young cellist in a seemingly act of jealous vengeance. But then the plot dramatically pivots and the story veers into something else completely. I can’t say too much without giving anything away—but this one has a feminist twist that builds on shared trauma, mental health and vengeance.

  1. NINE PERFECT STRANGERS by Liane Moriarty

Like my own book, Nine Perfect Strangers is set on a luxurious wellness retreat. Each person is there to lose weight,  deal with past trauma and generally undergo a spiritual transformation.  The woman running the retreat, Masha, was once an over-stressed, over-worked corporate devotee until she suffered a heart-attack. Following her brush with death, Masha transforms herself and becomes a wellness extremist. She sets on a mission to help others achieve their ‘best’ selves by opening her retreat, but she quickly becomes obsessive and delusional to the detriment of her guests.

  1. THE PERFECT MOTHER by Aimee Molloy

The May mothers are a group of Brooklyn moms who gave birth in the same month and like to meet twice a week with their babies to discuss the trials of new motherhood. When the mothers decide to have a much needed night out—the fun comes to a sudden halt when one of the mothers gets a frantic call. Her son, Midas, has been abducted in his crib. What follows is a gripping, twisted plot that explores the impossible expectations of modern motherhood and how one mother is driven to commit terrible crimes in the name of being seen as the perfect mother.


This is the shocking true story of Elizabeth Holmes, who rather than admit failure, thought it would be better to dupe everyone from Walgreens to powerful, high-ranking people in the United States government into believing her company, Theranos, could revolutionize health care by diagnosing diseases with a finger-prick’s worth of blood. The problem was the technology didn’t work. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this story is how Holmes got away with the ruse for so long, which in part was due to cosplaying Steve Jobs, faking a baritone voice and other accouterments to project ‘masculine genius’ and perfection.

  1. GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

No surprise that Amazing Amy is on this list, after all, the famous ‘Cool Girl’ speech is about the impossible expectations of perfect femininity. Being the real life version of her parents children’s series, ‘Amazing Amy,’ who is always nice, caring and victorious, sets Amy on a twisted path to achieve perfection. Amy performs whatever version of herself necessary to compete with other women, inspire jealousy, and gain attention. She masquerades herself as the Cool Girl to make her husband, Nick, fall in love with her. When Amy realizes that Nick isn’t interested in getting to know the ‘real’ her and her marriage collapses, she uses her perfectionism to set an elaborate, vindictive trap.

  1. LYING IN WAIT by Liz Nugent

Lydia Fitzsimons lives in a beautiful house with her adoring husband and beloved son. There is just one thing Lydia yearns for to make her perfect life complete, one more child.  Lydia persuades her husband to father a child with a drug addicted, sex-worker named Annie. When Annie lies to Andrew about being pregnant, and then tries to blackmail him—Lydia’s idea of perfection is threatened with devastating results.

Biography: When not writing SHERRI SMITH spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side. She is the author of Follow Me Down and The Retreat.

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