Sophie Whalen is an Irish immigrant living an unhappy life in a crowded tenement in New York when she answers an ad to marry a man she has never met. She travels to San Francisco and marries Martin Hocking as soon as she gets off the train. She doesn’t know much about Martin besides that he sells insurance, is a recent widower, and has a young daughter who has not spoken since the death of her mother.
The marriage provides Sophie with everything she wants: a beautiful home, good clothes, plenty of food, and a child to love, Kat. And while she doesn’t desire love from her husband, his aloof demeanor and long absences begin to puzzle her. Is he still deep in grief from the loss of his first wife or is he hiding something? Sophie tries to ignore her misgivings as her and Kat form a deep attachment.
On April 18, 1906 a devastating earthquake hits San Francisco and tears Sophie’s façade of domestic happiness apart. Amid the shifting earth and ferocious fires, Sophie must do what she can to keep herself and Kat alive while making surprising new allies along the way. Will Sophie have the happy life with Kat that she so desperately wants or will even more secrets get in the way?
I recommend The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner to historical fiction readers who like a lot of twist and turns. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that Sophie’s husband is definitely hiding something. I did not know much about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and it was refreshing to read about an unfamiliar era of history. Some of the twists were predictable but that didn’t stop me from racing through the book to the satisfying conclusion. What I enjoyed most about the book were the themes of female friendship, found family, and justice.