When Jeff, a devoted father and loving husband to Claire, is tragically killed on his way home one night, the ripple effect that begins with his death leads the reader further and further into the tangled web that is Jeff’s life. Hidden by Catherine McKenzie is different from pretty much any book I’ve ever read. It’s not so much a mystery of who committed the act, but did this actually happen, to whom did it happen, and why did it happen? Hidden draws you in and doesn’t let go, even after you’ve closed the last page.
Jeff’s death begins a chaotic maze of a story, jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint. We get to see Jeff’s side of the story, sorting through his relationships both with his wife Claire and with his co-worker Tish. We get to observe first-hand Claire’s alternating grief and guilt: she used to be with Jeff’s brother Tim, but they broke up when he wanted to move to Australia. Claire ended up marrying Jeff and building a life with him. Now Tim is back for his younger brother’s funeral and Claire needs to work through anything that might remain between the two of them. And we get to see Tish, working through the stress of being a mother, being a wife, and trying to figure out if she was indeed “the other woman” in Jeff’s life, and how to work through his death without dragging everyone else in her life down with her.
This novel is disjointed and messy, but I think Ms McKenzie has done a fantastic job of using this style of writing to mimic what life is like when you’re working through a tragedy. Everyone’s trying to make sense where perhaps there is none to be had. Ms McKenzie paints each character as realistic, each with their own set of unique flaws and strengths. Generally a wife that gets cheated on is easy to create as a deeply emotionally flawed person who is weak and either ultra dependant or super disconnected from their partner. Claire is neither. She’s someone that could easily be your neighbor or your friend. She has her own interests, her own needs and wants, and she’s a strong woman, caught up in a life that’s all of a sudden spiraling beyond what she’s able to control. The same with Tish: you’d assume that the “other woman” would be a manipulative man-eater, but just the opposite. Tish finds a true friend in Jeff, and as the nature of their relationship is revealed, layer by layer, through the chapters, I actually found myself sympathizing with her.
Hidden is a gem of a book. Arm yourself with a cup of tea, a box of tissues, and a few hours, and you’ll be ready to face this book. Catherine McKenzie has knocked it out of the park again, but don’t expect this to flow as comfortably as her other novels. The disjointed nature of this novel keeps you intrigued, keeps you thinking, and, ultimately, lets you make your own decisions about these characters. I think this makes it a very strong read. Maybe not a beach read (a little heavy for that), but certainly not one that you’ll want to miss.
Thanks to Catherine McKenzie for the book in exchange for an honest review. Hidden is currently available in Canada for purchase and in the US for pre-ordering. (It will be published in April.)
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