Book Review: Catherine McKenzie’s Hidden

April 8, 2014 4 out of 5, review 0 ★★★★

Book Review: Catherine McKenzie’s HiddenTitle: Hidden
Author: Catherine McKenzie
Genre: Fiction / Literature
My Rating: four-stars
My Copy: ARC courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son as well as contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members, and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother, who was her ex-boyfriend. Tish volunteers to attend the funeral on her company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life.

Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish, and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, the repercussions of our personal choices, and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.

Catherine McKenzie is well known for writing about life and the complexity of relationships. Hidden is her fourth novel and it’s a complex story about a man and the two women in his life who struggle in the aftermath of his death.

We have good character development. Despite having three main protagonists (and even one that dies early on), we get to know each of them well enough. Jeff is an accountant who returns to live in his hometown after college. He loves golf and in many ways comes off as carefree. His wife, Claire, is a lawyer turned daycare owner and while we don’t get to really know her, we do get enough to form an idea of who she is. I really liked Claire and despite a few bumps in the road with Jeff, you can tell she loved him. Then we have Trish who is Jeff’s co-worker and I found it difficult to warm up to her because you can tell she’s a bit unhappy with her life. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to ruin the story. We have a few secondary characters who play a vital role including Claire’s sister Beth and Jeff’s brother Tim. It’s Tim that I wish we knew better and at times wanted a Tim narrative so we’d know his thoughts.

Narrative is first person and Hidden is told by three different viewpoints: Jeff, Claire, and Trish’s. All three are trustworthy narrators and even though some questions don’t get answered, it’s okay because in real life we don’t get answers sometimes. Of all three narratives, I really liked Jeff’s and despite the fact that he’s missing from the general picture, he does tell us enough that we get to know the full story. While McKenzie doesn’t state whose narrative it is, it’s pretty easy to follow. I know some readers have stated their confusion, but the narrative basically went: Jeff, Claire, Trish and repeat. At no point does McKenzie deviate from this. I will admit that I found Trish’s narrative the least interesting. It was hard to empathize with her and at times wanted this to be the Jeff and Claire story, but I did like having Trish’s viewpoint because it does enhance the experience and clarifies some questions.

What I really liked about Hidden is how it makes you think about your own relationships with people and question if you truly know them. If Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl taught us to be wary of a significant other and their motives, then McKenzie’s Hidden teaches us that we keep secrets even from our loved ones. Also, there’s a particular scene regarding Jeff’s funeral where both Claire and Trish have a different reaction to a story Jeff tells them from his past. Recently, I found myself at a memorial service where everyone told some wonderful stories about the deceased and it made me wish I knew him. Of course, I had just read that scene from Hidden a few days earlier and thought what a lovely idea Jeff had. I did find myself thinking that it is a pity that most stories told at a funeral, the deceased never hears them and that’s why I really liked Jeff’s idea.

I debated with the rating between a three and a four and ultimately decided on a four because I really liked how McKenzie left some things unanswered. Sure we all want answers, but in real life not everything gets addressed. I also enjoyed how McKenzie set things up by having Jeff involved. It would have easy to leave him out and have Claire and Trish carry the narrative, but just adored getting to know Jeff and liked his storytelling. His fears regarding Claire and Tim are justified and at times I wished he had hashed things out with Tim. Though I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps both Jeff and Claire settled especially when you take into account why Jeff returns home and why Claire didn’t follow Tim. This why I liked Hidden because the questions you have as a reader, Tim, Claire, and even Trish have at some point.

Overall, Catherine McKenzie’s Hidden is a page turner and when you’re done you’ll look at the world a little differently. A bit of warning: Hidden does deal with adultery and I’m not going to go into detail nor spoil the book for you by confirming or denying if there’s indeed infidelity. For those who are bothered by adultery or even a hint of it, I issue this warning so you’re aware of the possibility. I’m looking forward to reading her backlist and have my eye on Forgotten which I can’t wait to start.

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