The Fragile World by Paula Treick DeBoard ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: family, death, revenge, effects of traumatic events
Format read: Finished copy provided by Harlequin. (Thanks!)
Summary: When Daniel dies in a freak accident, his parents and sister have no way to predict the changes that will come to their family as the years go on.
Over a year later, I’m still recommending The Mourning Hours, Paula DeBoard’s debut, to people. It’s had a lasting effect on me; what can I say? Obviously, I’ve been looking forward to her second book since I finished the first, and yet again, DeBoard has written an engrossing and heartbreaking tale of a family dealing (or not dealing) with the impossible.
It’s been 5 years since Daniel’s death. The musical prodigy away at Oberlin College, struck down and killed in an accident. No one (except the driver) could have stopped this from happening but the logistics of a statement like that are kind of lost on Curtis (husband and dad) and Olivia (daughter and sister). Curtis completely detaches from his wife, his work (he’s a physics teacher), and basically his entire life, while Olivia is scared of everything. She records all of her fears (from the mundane to the ridiculous) in a Fear Journal, starts wearing all black, and steps away from her friends. Kathleen (wife and mom) tries her darnedest to push Curtis and Olivia to move forward but after giving it all she has, decides to move back to her hometown. Instead of deciding to go with her mom, Olivia stays with Curtis. So a family of four becomes three; becomes two and one.
Grief is a powerful emotion, and it’s difficult to see how much it steers the lives of Curtis and Olivia. Sure, they are getting through day-to-day together but they are not talking about the past, not bringing up Daniel, and certainly not making strides when it comes to living fulfilling lives. It’s not until Curtis has an episode at school that he decides the only thing he can do is kill Daniel’s killer, disguising his revenge road trip as a fun vacation with Olivia that will eventually lead back to Kathleen.
A majority of the book is told in the heads of Olivia and Curtis, as the chapters swap between the two. This tactic definitely made the book move a bit slower, but it only showcased DeBoard’s knack for dialogue because when it popped up, it was good. Despite their hurt, Curtis and Olivia do have this adorable father / daughter friendship and I enjoyed Olivia’s quips. In ways, I’m not sure what would have happened if Curtis didn’t decide to take this trip. I picture both of them living like Big Edie and Little Edie at Grey Gardens. But, sweet readers, things can only get worse especially when you aren’t communicating and your mind is just not functioning the way it should.
Yet again, DeBoard had me at the edge of my seat with The Fragile World but in a totally different way. Was there any way this family could be repaired? Could they move on? Would Curtis go through with his revenge plan? I truly had no idea until I reached the final page, and it left me totally shocked and surprised and even a little bit angry. But perhaps the most shocking thing is that I felt hopeful too. Maybe not a lot, but just enough that I was thinking a lot about what hitting rock bottom truly means, and also the different avenues that love and devotion can take us and bring us back.