Monday, July 25, 2011

Next on the book list!

Lisa Unger has once again written an engrossing, twisty-turning novel that grabs your brain and forces you to sit up and pay attention.  Although the cover may look like it belongs on a Jodi Piccoult novel, it actually masks  much more intriguing and multi-plot story that unwinds deliciously over the course of its 327 pages.

Fragile contains many characters, and several smaller plots, but the main focus of the book involves the disappearance of a troubled high school girl from her insulated town outside New York City. Did she really run away, as her Facebook page claims, or was she kidnapped?  Local child psychiatrist Maggie and her husband, Detective Jones, become submerged in the events while simultaneously coping with their own ghosts that still haunt this town they both grew up in.  While small town living may mean that everyone knows everyone else, reality is not always what it seems to be, and as the truth of the crime begins to come to light, so do the facts surrounding another event from the past that threatens to overcome them all.  What you think is the main plot is actually a venue to uncover something else entirely.

Fragile has many positive aspects, not the least of which is the multi-layered character writing done by Unger.  The story is told by multiple characters, who play various roles throughout.  Typically I have a favorite character, or at the very least stifle a groan when a chapter is told from the perspective of a particular character in a multi-cast novel, but this time I didn't; each one was lifelike and important beyond his or her part in the mystery at hand.  Even the characters in the story that you knew, just KNEW, had a part in the girl's disappearance, were dimensional and had a draw.  

This brings up an important point; due to the multi-voice storytelling, the reader knows more about what is really going on than any one of the characters for most of the novel.  However, this is not to say that I knew exactly what had occured in either the disappearance at hand *or* the mystery from the past, and this was delightful.  I knew just enough to *think* I knew what happened, which kept me from feeling like I should probably just skim the rest (ahem, again with the Piccoult reference), but there were indeed surprises ahead, unvelied throughout the last third of the novel, that changed my perceptions and made me respect Unger more as a writer.  I read a lot, as you have probably noticed, and it's not typical that I don't have just about everything figured out by the middle of the book.  I love that I didn't here.  More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that even though I thought I had figured everything out, I didn't care.  I was enjoying the book, and the unfolding events, too much to stop reading.  I read every word on every page.

If you read this book, alone or with others, consider the following book club questions:
1. How did your perception of Tommy Delano change throughout the novel?  Were you surprised at his letter?
2. What do you think would have happened if Sarah hadn't gotten into the car that day?  What would have the more immediate repercussions been for Sarah, and for Maggie?  What long-term implications might have there been for all the characters?
3. Social media plays a significant role in the mystery surrounding Charlene's disappearance.  Considering the pervasiveness of internet culture, what safeguards do you think are appropriate for a teenage online consumer?  
4. Maggie and Jones experience significant conflict over their son, Rick.  Whose side did you find yourself taking?  Why?

Rating: four out of five stars.  Engaging, character-driven novel that takes the reader on a trail-of-crumbs through the history and mystery of a small town.

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