The Nature of Fragile Things

In her latest novel, writer Susan Meissner has penned a compelling story about the lengths people will go to to find security and calm in their lives.

Sophie Whalen is an Irish immigrant who has travelled to New York to flee hardship and trouble in Ireland. Instead of finding herself in the land of milk and honey, she is thrust into poverty of the worst kind, living in a rat-infested tenement, barely eking out a living and finding her destitution intolerable. One day she reads a want ad from a widower in San Francisco who is looking for a wife to care for his 5 year old daughter. Without much thought, Sophie responds to the ad and soon finds herself on a train to the west coast where she will marry a complete stranger, a man by the name of Martin Hocking.

Martin introduces Sophie to his daughter, Kat, who hasn’t spoken since the death of her mother. He takes them both to their new home which is lovely and everything that Sophie could possibly hope for. While Martin remains cold and distant to both wife and daughter, Sophie imagines that it is his overwhelming grief for his late wife that drives this behaviour. Sophie begins to care for Kat intensely as she finds herself alone with the youngster, often for many days at a time, while Martin travels for business.

During one of Martin’s absences, Sophie answers the door to Belinda, a very pregnant young woman who is looking for her husband who she believes to live at this address. That visit is the beginning of the unravelling of the mystery of Martin Hocking. The revelations happen as the city of San Francisco experiences a massive earthquake and Sophie, Kat and Belinda are forced to find refuge in one of the many shelters set up in the city to house the earthquake evacuees. The description of the horror and devastation wreaked by this powerful quake are fascinating.

Metaphorically, the quake not only cracks open the city but also the lives of Sophie, Kat and Belinda. Their journey to find the truth compels them forward and into what will become a life-long connection built on mutual trust and endearing affection.

I enjoyed The Nature of Fragile Things very much! It isn’t page-turning in a suspenseful sense but I was fully engaged in the lives of the characters and how the story would unfold.

— Nancy C.