Lisa Unger: delicate bonds stretched to the limit

“Fragile,” by Lisa Unger. Shaye Areheart /Crown. 336 pages. $24.00.

In The Hollows, a small town 100 miles from New York City, a rebellious teenager named Charlene disappears. Pressed into service is Jones Cooper, the head of detectives on the local police force. Concerned as well is his wife Maggie, a psychologist who has insights into Charlene as well as into Charlene’s mother, Melody, once a high school classmate, as was Jones and many other townspeople. The Hollows holds onto its young, who turn into its parents and then its retired grandparents – like Maggie’s declining mother, Elizabeth, once the high school’s principal.

One of Maggie’s patients is Marshall Crosby, a troubled boy at the edge of destructive behavior. He is the son of disgraced former policeman Travis Crosby – a high school crony of Jones’s – and grandson of the older Travis Crosby, retired from his mean-spirited reign as the town’s police chief.

Center stage for the Coopers is their son, Ricky, who considers goth-fashioned Charlene his girl friend. Exactly how close they are is not clear, but Ricky has also been rebellious and secretive. What does he know about Charlene’s disappearance? What will he reveal?  

Is Charlene a runaway – or has she been abducted? Will she end up like one of her mother’s classmates, Sarah, who a generation back was found murdered shortly after her disappearance? Questions about Charlene bring up memories of Sarah’s death – a closed case, but with some loose ends.  

And why is Marshall Crosby, the son and grandson of abusers, trying so hard to find out if he is a good person or a bad person?

While Lisa Unger shows amazing skill at plot development, pacing, and projecting a rich sense of place, her talent in characterization – in plumbing the depths of her characters’ inner circumstances – is truly exceptional. Readers will be enthralled by the access they gain to each major character’s fluctuations of emotional temperature. Even more important in this novel is Ms. Unger’s penetration into the nuances of relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, public and private roles, friendships and mere dependencies, the self as child and the self as adult. How strong, or fragile, are these ties?

To read this review in its entirely, as it appeares in the August 4-10, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Lisa Unger’s FRAGILE

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