By Ekta R. Garg
February 17, 2021
Genre: Historical fiction
Release date: February 2, 2021
Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars
A woman moves across the country to get a new start in life. What begins as a situation with minor quirks becomes an earth-shattering reality, in more ways than one. Author Susan Meissner excels both in historical fact and compelling fiction in her newest book The Nature of Fragile Things.
At the turn of the 20th century, Sophie Whalen knows she needs to get out of New York City. She left behind her beloved Ireland to start life afresh, but the cramped, dingy living conditions in her tiny shared apartment are making it difficult to imagine anything clean and new. Add to that the horrible work in the factory, and Sophie is desperate to leave.
When she sees an ad in the newspaper offering her a way out, she jumps at the chance. A gentleman in San Francisco is looking for a mail-order bride. A widower, he needs a new wife to take care of his daughter. Sophie doesn’t even blink; she answers the ad, packs up her meager belongings, and jumps on the train across the country.
Sophie isn’t blind to the eccentricity of her situation, and she isn’t looking for romance. She just wants a quiet life in a home of her own, and she gets it with Martin Hocking…more or less. Martin doesn’t talk much, and his daughter, Kat, doesn’t talk at all. Martin confides in Sophie that Kat thinks her mother’s death is her fault but reassures Sophie that in time things will get better.
After bringing both Sophie and Kat to a new house in San Francisco, Martin leaves for a business trip. So starts Sophie’s new routine: getting to know her new home city and her new step-daughter. In no time, both charm her. Kat begins to open up to Sophie, and it seems as if life will finally start settling down. Although Sophie can’t quite figure out why Martin needs to be away so much for his job and why he’s so stiff around Kat, she decides not to question what is arguably a situation that favors her.
The questions do come from someone else, however. On an ordinary April day, a woman shows up on Sophie’s doorstep asking for answers that Sophie can’t provide. Within twelve hours, Sophie, the woman, and Kat barely survive a deadly earthquake and forever become tied to one another. As Sophie fights for survival, she starts to put together the odd pieces that make up her husband in a brand new picture that first frightens her and then emboldens her.
Author Susan Meissner grounds her book in such authenticity that readers will feel like they’re standing right next to Sophie as she disembarks the train in California at the start of the story. Meissner also chose to tell the story in flashbacks, a risky endeavor, but here it works. The scenes in the “present,” as short as they might be, propel the narrative forward and readers will be flipping or swiping pages as fast as possible to find out what happens next.
The entire book is a gem, but the sections that hit the hardest come during the earthquake itself. One of the most devastating events in California history, Meissner gives readers a virtual tactility with the disaster. The descriptions are incredible, offering readers all five senses before, during, and after the tragedy.
Sophie will win readers over as the determined protagonist, and Meissner doesn’t make things easy for her main character. The harder Sophie fights for answers, though, the more readers will cheer her on. Kat’s mutism is heartbreaking, and all of the women Sophie gets to know along the way show the strength of having a village full of loved ones.
Readers who enjoy historical fiction or a book about strong women will thoroughly enjoy this book. I recommend readers Binge The Nature of Fragile Things.