Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Review: Precious and Fragile Things by Megan Hart

As a reader, the key to my being able to enjoy a story often hinges upon whether I can muster empathy for characters with whom I cannot identify through common experience or moral/ethical attitudes.

I found Gilly Solomon, the protagonist in Precious and Fragile Things, unlikeable at the onset of the book, and my opinion of her had not improved by the final page. Gilly is on her way home with her two small children during a snowstorm when she and her children are suddenly carjacked by a knife-yielding young man. Gilly’s reaction to the event is odd, to say the least. Prior to being faced with sudden peril, Gilly had been ruminating about motherhood and the dull, thankless routine her life had become.

Gilly manages to protect her children by engineering a crash and forcing her children out into the snow through an open car window, at which point her captor orders her to keep driving, which she does without hesitation.

When her captor forces her to stop at a gas station and deliberately provides her with an opportunity to escape, Gilly remains in the car, not because she’s paralyzed by fear, but because she’s so sick of the rigors of motherhood that the temptation to see how her current situation might play out is simply too strong to resist. I had a difficult time finding a kernel of credibility in Gilly’s reaction. Would even the most harried of caregivers risk her life in this manner? Would a mother court death and risk abandoning her children permanently just because she feels like an unappreciated floor-scrubbing, laundry-sorting automaton?

These basic questions formed a struggle within me as I continued to read, and for me, the book played out like a claustrophobic sleep-over that lasted several months as captor Todd and hostage Gilly were trapped in a remote mountainous cabin by a particularly harsh winter. Gilly comes across as extremely immature at times, complete with temper tantrums, making her captor seem less menacing by comparison than the author might have intended, although the real issue with the Todd character is that he remains two-dimensional throughout the book.

Gilly experiences some guilt pangs and renewed feelings of love for her children once it has been clearly established that there will be no hope of escaping Todd until the winter snows thaw with the arrival of spring. My problem as a reader was that I never fully believed Gilly’s reversal, and as the dark secrets held by her captor Todd were gradually revealed, the sympathy I wanted so much to reserve for Gilly’s predicament shifted to the chain-smoking, enigmatic young man who had caused her plight in the first place.

Todd Blauch is the tragic figure in Precious and Fragile Things, while Gilly comes across (at least to this reader) as a selfish, neurotic brat with a foul temper. Although the novel is a fair entry into the contemporary suspense category, readers who want a more engrossing read based upon the captor/captive theme should try The Collector by John Fowles or Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

Lisa Marie

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