The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Against the backdrop of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires, a woman with secrets to keep must rebuild her life.


Book cover for The Nature of Fragile Things


The Nature of Fragile Things

by Susan Meissner

Summary-The Nature of Fragile Things

In March 1905, Sophie Whalen stands on the deck of a ferry, looking at San Francisco.  She left the crowded and filthy tenements of New York six days ago and at the end of her journey she will marry Martin Hocking, a man she’s never met. A widower, Martin placed an ad in the newspaper looking for a new wife as well as a new mother for his five-year-old daughter, Kat. Sophie, desperate for a new beginning far away from New York, answered his ad. Now, she is close to what she wants-a warm home with plenty to eat and clean clothes to wear.

Sophie meets Martin at the docks. Her first glimpse of Martin confirms what Sophie has realized from his photograph-Martin Hocking is striking man. Sophie’s doubts about her impending marriage return. Why does a man like Martin want a mail-order bride? He’s a man of means-not wealthy, but comfortable. From his looks, he would be able to attract his choice of well-bred women in San Francisco or anywhere along the West Coast. Why did he want someone from the East Coast? Why an Irish immigrant fresh from the poverty of New York? Sophie concludes Martin wants someone who won’t make demands or have high expectations from this marriage.

One year into her marriage, Sophie has settled into her new life, which centers around Kat. Sophie, taken with Kat since their first meeting, has grown to love the little girl. Even though her life with Martin still seems off, Sophie continues to ignore the doubts she can’t quite silence. One evening, while Martin is away, a pregnant woman shows up on Sophie’s doorstep and the life Sophie thought she had crashes down around her and Kat. The next morning, the women and Kat are forced into the streets when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires lay waste to much of the city. Sophie is forced to begin again. But this beginning threatens to circle back around to her past, exposing the secret she’s never told anyone.


The Nature of Fragile Things starts on November 6, 1906, in San Francisco, months after the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires. The main character, Sophie Hocking, is being interviewed by U.S. Marshal Ambrose Logan. The interview takes place in various chapters throughout the book and deepen the mystery of Sophie Hocking. The historical detail immerses the reader into Sophie’s world in Ireland, the New York tenements, and finally San Francisco. Meissner’s writing makes it almost impossible to put the book down. I stayed up late the second night because I needed to know how the novel ended before I could even try to go to sleep. Highly recommended.

Author information/links

Susan Meissner

Publishing information

Published by Berkley
Feb 02, 2021 | 384 Pages | 6 x 9| ISBN 9780451492180


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