Sympathy for the Devil

Fragile In the genre of women’s fiction, Jodi Picoult, Sue Miller and Anita Shreve exemplify the unwritten ground rules: an event of some trauma or import intrudes on the seemingly ordered life of a woman living in a seeming idyllic suburban or rural town. Lisa Unger certainly plays by the rules but she also manages to add her own stamp to the genre.

The plot description of Fragile may remind some of Rosellen Brown’s excellent Before and After but that’s merely superficial. Brown was focused on the toll taken on one family. Unger chronicles the impact on an entire town. Her cross-section of characters verges on over population at the beginning of the book but once the action kicks in the pattern Unger is weaving becomes clear. Unger is particularly good at showing the reader unpleasant characters without making them cartoonish. Even her most repellant characters retain a humanity.

There were a few things in Fragile that are, well, curious. One is Unger’s choice to saddle a major male character with the name “Jones”. At least it’s not “Storm”, I guess. Then Unger has one character named “Chuck”, another “Charlie” and a third “Charlene”. If she was trying to make the three a triptych of each other it doesn’t come off. Maybe she just likes the name Charles.

An enjoyable book. Recommended for fans of Jodi Picoult, Sue Miller and Rosellen Brown.

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