This wasn’t really what I was expecting. From the cover and from what I’d heard about this book I was anticipating a love story between two American men with a historical element which caused them to keep their love hidden within a tenderly written, possibly understated debut novel.
There wasn’t much of a historical element as this was old age breaking down the long-lasting relationship of Wendell and Frank in rural Virginia, two men who had rarely left the house they shared together in case people worked out their relationship. When a health emergency hits Frank, Wendell claims he is his brother.
This is the tale of the deterioration of Frank’s health told in a first-person narrative by Wendell. I can recognise the poignancy of these men and their hidden lives but I did have issues with the novel. Firstly, it is without humour which, when the going is good made it a little dry and when things took a turn for the worse I was desperate for the author to introduce some lightness. This is the second time I’ve thought this recently, Andrew Holleran’s 2022 comeback novel “The Kingdom Of Sand” also featured the old age of gay men with the same relentlessly downbeat viewpoint. Secondly, I felt their past needed more attention, we particularly learn very little about Wendell. I can understand this to a point as the title suggests, secrecy is paramount but it holds these characters at arm’s length. Thirdly, Wendell is a taxidermist and we have some detailed accounts of his work which was really difficult reading for me, there was one section I had to scan rather than read and this is something I so rarely do.
I toyed with a disappointed two star rating but then technically it works so well. It is a well-crafted novel. Matthew Griffin is a University Professor and graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and that proficiency shows. There were quite a few moments when the present day was informed by the back story of the relationship explaining why they were reacting thus but I feel there was more opportunity to open up and give us more of these lives. I’m sure this then would not have been the novel the author wanted to write but I personally think some more back-story on both individuals and their time together would have resonated with a wider audience and might have given a bit more balance to the air of despondency Griffin creates.
Hide was published by Bloomsbury in the UK in 2016. I read the paperback edition from 2017.