Desert Isle Keeper
The Nature of Fragile Things
The Nature of Fragile Things is the mesmerizing, enchanting new novel from author Susan Meissner. A tale celebrating strong women, female friendships and the special bond between mothers and daughters, this charming book is the perfect companion to a hot cup of tea on a winter afternoon.
Sophie Whalen isn’t looking for love. But she is searching for a way out of her dead end life in a New York tenement, so when she sees an ad for a mail-order bride from a man looking for a mother for his daughter Kat, she responds. He replies and before she knows it, she’s on her way to San Francisco. Widower Martin Hocking is entrancingly handsome, with striking eyes and a calm, temperate, well-mannered demeanor which serves as a balm to all Sophie’s fears about wedding a stranger. They are married within hours of meeting and she immediately moves into his fine house in a lovely neighborhood. He leaves the next day on a business trip, a situation which could have been difficult for Sophie and Kat, who are complete strangers, but Sophie proves to be adept at motherhood and she and Kat quickly develop a strong relationship. The little girl, traumatized by her mother’s death, hasn’t been speaking, but she slowly begins to flower (and talk) under Sophie’s care. Things are a bit lonely – Martin spends most of his time on the road for his sales job and even when he is home he is cold and distant to them both – but Sophie slowly builds a life for herself and Kat in the city.
As the months pass, she grows curious about her husband’s oddities. He keeps his desk locked, has a mysterious safe in the basement she isn’t allowed to touch, and when Sophie meets his former landlady the woman tells some strange tales about him. It’s hard for Sophie to ask questions, though. She and Kat are happy together, and her new-found financial security makes it easy for her not to dig too deeply into the life of the man who provides it. Until a stranger shows up on the doorstep forcing her to realize everything she thought she knew was a lie.
Belinda Bigelow is a pregnant young woman whose husband allegedly left town to handle some business for Martin. He was supposed to be gone for only a brief time but it is days since Belinda has seen him and she’s concerned something has happened to him. Slowly, Belinda and Sophie begin to piece together a puzzle which has them both frightened and horrified, and which leads them to a dying woman in the American Southwest, someone who knows the final, shattering piece of the mystery which will change all of their lives forever.
I sat down to peruse a few pages of this tale and read straight through till I finished; I was completely riveted by the riddle the women were unraveling and how their lives were affected by it. Sophie is a fabulous heroine – warm hearted, clever, kind and resourceful. She is exactly whom you would want with you when your world was falling apart. The plucky, resilient Kat was amazing as well. Her father’s neglect has forced her to fend for herself and as a result, she’s wise and capable beyond her years. Belinda is young and naïve but so kindhearted and generous you can’t help loving her. I adored the way all three of our heroines learned that resilience and perseverance can lead you to a brighter, better tomorrow.
The story takes place in San Francisco, in the period surrounding the great earthquake. The author does a fantastic job with the history; she doesn’t do information dumps but instead allows everyday life and the massive events from that period to inform how her characters navigate their world.
Ms. Meissner also does a great job with the mystery. Parts of it I had suspected from the beginning, but other portions were a surprise. The focus of the story remains on our heroines and how what is happening impacts them, which was perfect. It also highlights how smart and capable Sophie is. She is far more than the has villain bargained for and it is a complete delight to watch her outwit them.
At the end of the novel, we learn something rather surprising about one of the heroines. It revolves around spousal abuse, although we are told about it rather than having it occur on page. Naturally, this sequence includes violence but it isn’t at all graphic. This segment isn’t gratuitous but is meant to establish the how and why behind some of the characters’ behaviors. The Nature of Fragile Things is a tale about surviving adversity and making the most of the opportunities life gives you, and it looks at the darker and lighter aspects of life equally.
If the story has a flaw – and I’m not sure I would really call it that – it is that after we’ve reached a resolution of the primary issues, we abruptly leave the characters even though there is still plenty of tale left to tell. We are given an epilogue which updates us on how each of them fare in the future, but I could have read at least another hundred pages and considered it time well spent.
That’s a quibble though and in no way impacts the perfection that is The Nature of Fragile Things. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys women’s fiction novels featuring strong, quick witted heroines.