“Burning With Stars”: A Review of ‘Hide’

Books such as Hide don’t come around very often, but when they do, they break your heart.

Hide follows the story of Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a veteran, who meet just after World War II, a time when their blooming relationship is not only considered socially offensive, but is also illegal. Deciding that their life together is more important than anything else in their lives, they move away from town, severing all ties with the outside world to protect themselves and their love for one another. But when Wendell finds an eighty-three year old Frank lying outside having a stroke, all the work they have put into their relationship starts to unravel.

I have never read a book that looks at domestic life between a gay couple like this, but I wish that a book like this had found its way to me sooner. Whilst, there is an element of tragedy to this story that I think is always closely linked to historical homosexual relationships such as this, the tragedy is not their homosexuality – it is the fact that they have to remove themselves from their community in order to live an ordinary life. The tragedy is the law that caused this, the society that made these men feel unsafe, and beyond that, afraid, to even be seen together in the supermarket. I was worried in some places that this book would play into the “sad tragic gay” trope a lot of fiction tends to fall into (purely by accident), and while there were moments where these men suffered because of their homosexuality, it was never their fault, it was always because of the law that forbade their relationship, it was because they were trying to protect those around them from ending up in jail because of a fundamentally sickening law.

But this book is about so much more than just the fact of their homosexuality. Hide is just as much about the changing domestic lives of couples as they age, as their bodies and minds start to fail them. As Frank gradually deteriorates throughout this novel, so too does Wendell, broken as much by Frank’s inability to live the life he was once able to, as he is by his own ageing body. Frank’s stroke at the beginning of this novel really cements for me what this book is about – it is about how love continues and grows, how it changes, over a lifetime together. There were moments of gentle bickering and poking fun at each other that reminded me of my own grandparents, the grumbles and jokes and regularities of everyday home life. These men felt like family – and that is no easy feat for an author to achieve.

The way Griffin describes these men leaves a very clear image of them in my mind, both of them in their youth, and in their older years. I can see Frank with all his tattoos up and down his arms, I can see Wendell watching Frank intently, trying with his eyes to ask the one question he can’t actually voice aloud. I can see them both poking and jabbing each other in their old age, sinking into wrinkled armchairs and trying to find each other in the murkiness of Frank’s disappearing memory, in the mess of their lives post-stroke. These men were vivid in my mind, and I can’t help but congratulate Matthew Griffin for the way he has brought them to life.

I will warn however, that some moments in this book could be disturbing for readers. For me at least, the scene where Frank tries to mow the lawn himself, with devastating consequences, was particularly uncomfortable to read, and honestly, made me feel sick to my stomach. I have to say though, that the methodical and non-accusing tone of Griffin’s writing really struck me in this moment. At no point does Griffin ever blame Frank for what he has become, but instead looks to save him in the very same way that Wendell wishes he could. And the heartbreaking thing is that we know that Frank’s brain will probably never let that happen.

I cried more than once reading this book, at both the happiest and saddest moments. This is a book about loss, and the harsh reality of losing someone even as they stand right before you. There is something beautiful about Griffin’s writing, the thoughtfulness of it, the way it rhythmically moves in and out and then in again. The dialogue feels genuine and familiar, whilst the prose rings true and bright and wonderful. I can’t wait to see what Griffin does next.

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Hide by Matthew Griffin (RRP $28) is available in all good book stores from September 2016, or directly from the publisher, Allen & Unwin, here. 

As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.

 Thank you once again to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of Hide. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2016

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