The Nature of Fragile Things

by Susan Meissner

I have had the pleasure of reading some of the best (soon to be published) books. The Nature of Fragile Things is absolutely number one! I’ve read Susan Meissner before, but this is maybe her best work. Thank you, Tall Poppy and Penguin Random for allowing me this opportunity.

Sophie Whalen Hocking is from Donaghadee County Down, Ireland. At nineteen she emigrated to New York City, but after two years she answers an advertisement for a wife and stepmother to Martin Hocking and his five-year-old daughter Katherine (Kat) and moves to San Francisco.

The arranged marriage comes with a few rules, including separate bedrooms. Sophie has plenty to eat, a nice warm three-story house, and money to budget; all things she yearned for as a child growing up in Ireland. Kat is a bonus and wonderful child, though she does not talk since the death of her mother.  Sophie immediately settles in as Kat’s stepmother and her gentleness eventually warms Kat to trust her.

Martin is an insurance salesman and travels away from home for long periods. Still, the relationship works for everyone. In April of 1906, while Martin is away, there is a knock at the door. The visitor, Belinda Bigelow, a woman about eight months pregnant has come to the Hocking residence in search of her husband, James. As the two women settle into tea, Belinda sees the wedding photo of Sophie and Martin on the mantle. Martin is the spitting image of James.

The earth begins to move for both women both literally and figuratively. That night the famous 1906 earthquake sets both women on a new course and future.

Susan Meissner weaves a tale of these women and the unraveling of the man they both know. Her knowledge of the earthquake of 1906 and how these women slept in tents while San Francisco burned all around them takes the reader directly to the scene. Her description of the food lines, those wounded and dead, the ruble, and the destruction of the city is almost unbelievable. She even cuts to the core of how this earthquake has shocked its victims, but then also recounts how the poor and rich react to the circumstances. Even the over-worked-walking-dead horses do not escape the eye of the author. The experience of Belinda giving birth hours after the earthquake in unspeakable surroundings and bringing life into the world of chaos is miraculous.

Then there is Martin/James. Who is he? The author knits together a bazaar story of a man neither women know. The details of such a cunning man are written in a format that is suspenseful and daunting. Her way with words is exciting and at times thrilling.  

I hope you enjoy her work.

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