Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book 54: Hidden


Did people's lives really change this quickly? Years of sameness, and then a few hours, a few moments, and everything's different? But yes, of course they can. It happens all the time."

Dates read: May 18-20, 2016

Rating: 3/10

I have never, to my knowledge, been cheated on. Given that I'm getting married less than a month after I write this, I hope I never will be. But that doesn't mean I haven't thought, over the years, about what I would do if I were to find myself with a boyfriend who cheated. When I was young, I was sure I would want to know right away. As I grew up, though, I became less and less sure: an emotional long-term affair was one thing, but what if it was an isolated incident (drunken hookup with someone we don't know or something like that), unlikely to recur and less likely to result in a breakup? Like I said, I've never had to put it to the test, but I wonder what I would really actually want in a situation like that.

Catherine McKenzie's Hidden puts this dilemma in front of the reader: how much do we really want to know? The novel kicks off with Jeff Manning being struck by a car, stressed out and not thinking about looking both ways before crossing the street after a bad day at work. The news of his demise devastates two different women: his wife Claire, and his colleague Tish. It's obvious quickly, from the depth of her grief, that Tish has a relationship with Jeff that's above and beyond just coworkers or even just friends, but what was actually there between them? Just some flirtation? Actual romantic feelings? Sex?

The story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of Claire, Tish, and a pre-death Jeff himself to explain just what is going on here. Before Claire was Jeff's wife, she was his older brother Tim's girlfriend. Although he's aware of that (obviously) going in, even long after they've married and had a son together, Jeff never quite gets over his jealousy. When one of Tim's rare trips home results in him making a move on Claire during a low moment in their marriage, when she's vulnerable, all of Jeff's old suspicions that he's merely the consolation prize come roaring back and fault lines open up between them. And when he meets Tish, who drifted as aimlessly into her own marriage as she did into her job in HR, their attraction sparks something more. When Claire discovers a text message from Tish on Jeff's broken phone before it dies completely, she finds herself putting together little pieces of evidence, seeing a picture that she can't be quite sure is there.

The whole point of the book seems to be whether or not Claire will find out what exactly there was between Jeff and Tish, a question for which the answer is held back from the reader as well until it's wound up in the epilogue. Which isn't really enough to sustain interest, honestly. McKenzie adds in a bunch of extra characters and situations to flesh it out, but at the end of the day, none of them contributes much to the actual story. I got bored with it and read quickly through the back half of the book so I could just be done with it already. Because once the level of Jeff and Tish's emotional entanglement becomes apparent, the question of whether it ever got physical was almost beside the point: they were cheating, whether or not they'd slept together. The book also suffered for McKenzie's failure to take advantage of the alternating narrators structure to create three different voices for the three people involved. They all sounded similar, Claire and Tish particularly so. And for this kind of story to actually resonate, all of the participants have to be sympathetic or at least interesting. But no one is all that interesting, and only Claire is remotely sympathetic. There's nothing especially rewarding to the reader to be found in Hidden: the writing is just decent, the plot drags, and the characters are one-note. It's not awful, it's just kind of a waste of time.

Tell me, blog you think emotional cheating is "better" or "worse" than physical cheating?

One year ago, I was reading: Oriental Mythology

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