Thursday, February 25, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner is a page-turner. I was immediately drawn in by the narrative voice and was quickly caught by the strangeness of the protagonist’s predicament and her eerily calm approach to it.

The novel begins in 1906 with the interrogation of the narrator, Sophie Whalen Hocking, by a U.S. Marshal who is investigating the disappearance of her husband, Martin Hocking. He was last seen just before the San Francisco earthquake. Sophie does not know what happened to him, but the marshal believes she does.

We then flashback to March 1905. Sophie Whalen is an immigrant from Northern Ireland who first arrived in New York City. Finding life in a tenement and work in a factory to be miserable and hopeless, she answers an ad from a man in San Francisco, a recent widower, who is looking for a wife and a mother to his young (five-ish) daughter. Sophie is intrepid and determined to make a better life for herself. She desperately loves children and wants one of her own to raise. Despite the fact that some of Martin Hocking’s reasons for wanting a mail-order bride seem a bit strange, she is pleased to have been chosen. They are married immediately and move to a lovely home in a nice neighborhood. Sophie believes she is fortunate and won’t dare complain, even if the situation is odd.

The daughter, Kat, has been traumatized and doesn’t speak. Sophie convinces herself it is the grief of losing her mother that has made her mute. Martin is standoffish, uninterested in his new wife (or his daughter), but not cruel or violent. He’s almost too calm. He works in insurance and has to spend most of his time on the road. Sophie is materially well provided for. She makes excuses for him–he is grieving his deceased wife and has walled himself off from further hurt. He just needs time.

Sophie is loving and generous and works hard to draw Kat out and make her feel safe and loved. She’s willing to be patient to earn Kat’s trust and, eventually, her husband’s affection. Meanwhile, little hints about Sophie’s own past are revealed. And inconsistencies in Martin’s tales start adding up.

The tension builds steadily as the reader grows more and more worried for Sophie and Kat. Things come to a head just as the earthquake hits San Francisco. Meissner paints a vivid picture of the quake and its aftermath. With extraordinary strength of character, despite her own suffering, Sophie takes on the task of keeping her loved ones safe.

This is a beautiful, gripping story, rich in historical detail, with a very memorable protagonist. Highly recommended!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this does sound good. Thanks (and here I thought this was another WWII novel).