Monday, August 2, 2010

FRAGILE - Lisa Unger

First Line: "When Jones Cooper was younger, he didn't believe in mistakes."

In the small town of The Hollows, a secret lingers, haunting its inhabitants. Some of the inhabitants know the secret that haunts them while others feel the effects but don't know their origins. When a teenage girl goes missing, the secret rears its ugly head demanding to be acknowledged.

Jones Cooper is the head of The Hollows police department, so he's called on when Charlene goes missing. Charlene also happens to be Jones' son's girlfriend. At first it appears that Charlene has run off to New York City, but neither Charlene's mother, nor Ricky Cooper, believe that to be the case. Whatsmore, Charlene and Jones both know the ghost that haunts The Hollows and it's eerily similar to the disappearance of Charlene.

Lisa Unger's FRAGILE is a bit of a departure from her previous thriller novels, but it hasn't departed from Unger's complexity of plot and depth of character. There is a very rich psychological element to her ninth novel, forcing the characters' thoughts and emotions into the limelight moreso than their actions.

Unger depicts the small town in all its beauty as well as its warts and foibles. In some ways The Hollows is so small it's suffocating its residents, and in other ways it's so large that the ugly secret remains hidden for decades. That dichotomy is mirrored in the people inhabiting The Hollows as the past collides violently with the present.

The haunting beauty of FRAGILE is enhanced by Unger's poetic imagery that weaves consistent images throughout the novel:

"She'd spun a web around Maggie's son without his knowing it, without even perhaps her intention. Spider silk was stronger than chain if you happened to be a fly."

"...she felt an awe at how all their separate lives were twisted and tangled, growing over and around one another, altering, aiding, and blocking one another's paths."

The idea that we're all tied into one another, affecting one another, connected. Those connections at once both "fragile" and strong.

Once again, Lisa Unger has succeeded at crafting a gripping tale that will echo in your thoughts long after you've turned the final page.

FRAGILE is available tomorrow, August 3rd in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-307-39399-9) from Shaye Areheart Books.

I interviewed Lisa for the most recent issue of CRIMESPREE Magazine and with their permission, I'm sharing a couple of the questions from that interview with you today. Here is a segment of my chat with Lisa:

Q. FRAGILE is the new book – did you think I’d ever get to it? As we mentioned in a previous question, it still contains the theme of deception,
of hidden secrets, but this book has its origins in an event that’s more personal for you. Can you talk a little about that? And why this book was
twenty years in the making? What about now - 2009/2010 – made this the right ntime to write this book?

Lisa: This book is very loosely based on an event that took place in the town where I grew up. A girl I knew in high school was abducted and murdered. It was a stunning and tragic event that impacted me tremendously and changed the way I thought about the world. This book is not about that event, per se. I did not research the past in order to flush out the foggy memories I have, or to create a real time line of events. I didn’t want to write that kind of book, mainly because I didn’t want to hurt people who had suffered terribly or to exploit the memory of the murdered girl.

But I have tried to tell this story, or the essence of it before. It has popped up in various partials and been discarded. And I honestly think that it took me so long because I had to become a better writer to tell the story well, and it took me the writing of eight novels, FRAGILE being my ninth, to develop and hone my skills to a level where I could do this justice. I learned in writing this book that one might have ambitions to tell a story but not have the skills, the craft to do it.

I also think it’s notable that the voices who wound up telling this story are older than I am now, and older than the characters who have tried to tell it before. Which leads me to think that maybe I needed to grow up a little to write this book.

Q. Setting plays a very important role in FRAGILE. The idea of the small town; everyone knows everyone else; everyone grew up together, went to school together, etc. It’s hard to be different in a town that small. Several of the characters don’t “fit;” they want to get out of the small town and go to “the city” – “the city” being New York City. And Maggie actually does live in New York for awhile but circumstances pull her back. You’ve described yourself as feeling like you didn’t exactly fit in. Are we seeing an element of you in these characters?

Lisa: I think this is the curse and the blessing of the writer. A writer is first, before anything an observer. And you cannot observe unless you stand apart. I have never felt particularly as if I belong anywhere, except in my immediate family with Ocean and Jeff. So I suppose I have particular empathy for the misfit characters in this book and all my novels.

I grew up in a town not unlike The Hollows. And, you’re right, it is very hard to be different in a place like that. But we moved there from elsewhere, after having lived overseas, so I don’t consider myself of or from a place like that. I sort of arrived there with a different idea of the world than most of my classmates. That place wasn’t the whole universe for me; it was one of many stops on the road. And I always knew I’d be gone from there as soon as I was old enough to leave.

Certainly, this feeling of being on the outside looking in was a prevailing feeling in my adolesence. I did hate the small town life and dreamed always of running away to New York City, which I eventually did. So I suppose I can relate to Maggie in that way.

Q. The other way I thought I heard echoes of you in Maggie’s character was Maggie’s occupation. She’s a psychologist. And she observes. She observes her patients, trying to see into their minds. Not only is she observing in her job but in her family. She’s on the outside of the relationship between her son and her husband, observing, not being able to do anything about the constant battles between them. That outside observation is what you’ve acknowledged is one of your own traits. Does Maggie’s character come from your experiences that way or did you have to research elsewhere to understand Maggie?

Lisa: I did quite a bit of research into her occupation, education, and just the particular challenges of, as a psychologist, having an office attached to the home. I wondered about those boundary issues, and how one separates from patients who are suffering and looking to you for help and guidance.

But I think being a psychologist is, in some ways, not unlike being a writer. One has to have a great deal of empathy, understanding and, yes, a bit of distance from the human condition. Much like the psychologist, you can’t be rolling around in the muck with your characters. You have to be able to see them clearly, hear them, know them to tell them well. But none of my characters necessarily come directly from my own experiences. And, of course, all of them do in their way. So, Maggie, like everyone is some compilation of my own traits, people I have observed, experiences I have had an imagined.

So, there's a little taste of my interview with Lisa. This interview holds a special distinction for me. While I'm beyond honored to be asked to do ANY interview for CRIMESPREE, this time I was asked to do the cover story interview. This is a milestone; it is incredibly humbling. And I'm so thrilled to have had my interviewee be Lisa Unger. You can check out the rest of the interview in this latest issue, Issue 37. Oh yeah, plus there's cool stuff from some other folks, like Craig McDonald and Reed Farrel Coleman, but I'm sure that's of no interest to you whatsoever! ;-) It's on its way to subscribers now and should be in select bookstores very soon. If you aren't a subscriber, you can check into that here.

Thank you for humoring me my little moment of excitement. Happy Reading!

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S. Krishna August 2, 2010 at 8:38 AM  

Great review/interview! I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when I realized this book wasn't a straight thriller, but once I got into it, I realized it was just as good as her others.

Kay August 2, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

I didn't read this very closely, Jen, as I've got this one on the back burner for September. However, I'm really looking forward to it. I'll check back next month and read more closely.

Naomi Johnson August 2, 2010 at 12:03 PM  

Congratulations, Jen! I know what this means to you, and it couldn't happen to a nicer person.

stacybuckeye August 17, 2010 at 1:46 PM  

How exciting! I love the questions you included. Can't wait to read the book.

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