Verdict: While A FRAGILE WILL is not much of a thriller, it's story has real heart as a journey of female self-empowerment.
Glen Ebisch’s A FRAGILE WILL should not bill itself as a suspense story. The labeling does a disservice to the novel’s real story—that of a young woman who takes charge of her life, despite obstacles ranging from insensitive parents to vague murder threats.
A FRAGILE WILL follows Cassie Reilly, a twenty-something left aimless after losing her teaching job. She finds herself the heir to a valuable estate and is tasked with building and maintaining a museum dedicated to an unknown author, despite being constantly hounded by enterprising relatives looking to sell the land. It’s not a mystery who is trying to threaten Cassie or why they’re tormenting her, not even with all the red herrings thrown in. The only real intrigue is how they’re doing it, and the answer doesn’t take a detective to figure out. The novel falls flat in its efforts to excite the reader—for all the intrigue and an underdeveloped romantic subplot—due to its bland prose. Even scenes where Cassie is in danger often feel far removed because of the always-balanced writing. Ebisch is an excellent writer in terms of mechanics, but technical perfection does not effectively communicate action. The dialogue also suffers, often rendered robotic and too frequently devoted to exposition dumps.
That said, the story of Cassie’s personal growth is the novel’s real reward. She discovers worth in promoting overlooked literature and, despite fears of inadequacy, finds the resolve to commit to the project. Her fears are aggravated by a home life ruled by her condescending parents and the specter of Cassie’s dead sister, Jayne. Jayne’s lost brilliance prompts constant comparison and the family’s grief cannot begin to justify their behavior; Cassie’s mother, in particular, is laughably unsupportive. But the family drama is left as an afterthought, even though one of the novel’s strongest scenes is when Cassie finally stands up to her mother. Cassie’s relationship with Jayne deserves more dimensions, but Ebisch is content leaving them at odds with each other. He fails to fully explore Cassie’s more complex grief about losing her sister, a perfect role model in life and beatified in death, doing the novel a second disservice.
~Magdalene Wrobleski for IndieReader