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This is a review of the 2011 book 'These things Hidden' by Heather Gudenkauf. The book is set in small town Iowa and follows Allison Glenn from her first day of release from prison. When she was 17 she was imprisoned for a terrible crime and she served five years before early release for good behaviour.
without giving away too much, Allison concealed a pregnancy from her family and is charged with the murder of her baby girl by police who find her in the river that runs behind the family home. Allison thought the baby was dead when it was born so was just trying to get rid of the evidence before her parents got home. Her sister Brynn panicked and called the police who were soon on the trail and medical evidence and the contents of the garbage confirm it is Allison's baby that is found in the river.
Five years later
Allison begins her new life in the next town from where she used to live and is housed in a half way house to help with her normalisation process. She gets a job working at the local bookstore on the recommendation of her landlady and this has some intense connections with her past life and mistakes.
Allison's parents are so shocked by what has happened, they don't want her in their lives any more, nor does her sister who now lives two hours away with her grandma. Allison feels she deserves a new start but her past still haunts her life in a huge way.
Claire and Jonathan own the local book store and have an adopted son Joshua who is all they ever wanted in their lives. Unable to have children themselves he is the most precious thing in their lives. A local student, Charm is a regular at the book store and always looks out for Josh when she calls in.
One of the "things" that really bugs me is the title of the book - 'These Things Hidden' just makes me think 'These things happen' which throwing babies in rivers - no they don't (or they shouldn't). I thought the title was weak and could have been a lot better. I did quite enjoy reading this book but had to wonder how everyone else in town knew who Allison was and what she did yet Claire knows she is employing an ex convict but she doesn't question her past. she is just glad that the government are subsidising her wage so she can have more staff in the store. If she had googled Allison's name she would have found out all she needed to know from the beginning!
Parenting is a subject which crops up frequently in the book, from Allison's brief encounter as a parent following childbirth, to Charm's rocky relationship with her mother and also the touching bonds she has with her dying stepfather Gus. Joshua couldn't wish for better parents in Claire and Jonathan who dote on his every move and take his views as a five year old very seriously. Allison's parents are total flakes even before all this happens. She works hard to maintain straight As and it's still not enough for them. Her sister Brynn doen't get a look in with her parents as they are uninterested in her non academic ambitions.
I would recommend this book as I enjoyed reading it but I think the subject of drowning one's own baby is not tackled seriously enough in the book. Fair enough, there is a prison sentence served and the issue of safe havens is covered, where newborns can be left without fear of repercussion if the parent feels unable to care for them. At the end of the book I enjoyed reading a Q&A with the author and exploring some of the issues covered in the book further. I am overawed that the author is a mother of three with a full time day job and evening classes (as a teacher) and she gets up early to write or stay up very late. Some people are like wonder woman when they achieve all this.
Allison Glenn tried to hide what happened that night...and failed. The consequence? Five years in prison. Now she's free. But secrets have a way of keeping you caged...When Allison is sent to prison for a heinous crime, she leaves behind her reputation as Linden Falls' golden girl forever. Her parents deny the existence of their once-perfect child. Her former friends exult in her downfall. Her sister, Brynn, faces the whispered rumours every day in the hallways of their small Iowa high school. It's Brynn - shy, quiet Brynn - who carries the burden of what really happened that night. All she wants is to forget Allison and the past that haunts her. But then Allison is released, and is more determined than ever to speak with her sister. Now their legacy of secrets is focused on one little boy. And if the truth is revealed, the consequences will be unimaginable for the adoptive mother who loves him, the girl who tried to protect him and the two sisters who hold the key to all that is hidden.
Heather Gudenkauf burst onto the scene last year with her debut novel The Weight of Silence and it was picked for the TV Book Club. I have the book on my shelf but I haven't yet managed to pick it up. I then noticed her second novel was up on Amazon, called These Things Hidden and I thought it sounded very intriguing. I managed to snag myself a proof copy and I read it the day after it arrived, as it's been a while since I've read something in the Jodi Picoult mould. I found it to be a very quick read, the short chapters lending to it a carry-on-reading feel and overall I was fairly impressed with the novel.
I'm going to keep my review short and simple as the novel is best read when you don't know too much about the plot. The book focuses on four women: Allison, who has just gotten out of jail; Brynn, Allison's sister; Charm, who is looking after her ill step-father; and Claire, adopted mother to son Joshua. They each have connections to each other and what happened the night Allison drowned her little girl has ramifications for them all. We follow each character, during short, sharp chapters as the story unfolds as to what really happened the night Allison's daughter was drowned and exactly how Charm and Claire were involved. I thought the plot was very well drawn-out and I liked seeing how Allison had to adjust to life on the outside after 5 years in jail. At times the plot was rushed, but on the whole I liked the pacing of it.
Despite everything Allison has done, I did find myself feeling sympathetic towards her. Yes, it's wrong to kill a child, but I could understand the method behind the madness. I don't agree with it, but I can see why she was driven to do that. I didn't particularly like Brynn, Allison's sister, I just never clicked with her really, though it was painfully clear that night had changed her irrevocably. Charm was my favourite character, the way she cares for her sick step-father and everything she does just made me like her all the more. There was something about her that just clicked with me and I looked forward to the chapters that featured her. Claire was also a character I enjoyed. You can feel how much she wants a child so when she adopts Joshua, you can see how her world is now complete.
These Things Hidden is well-written, told in third- and first-person narrative, with short chapters that make it easy to 'just read one more'. There isn't much wrong with the book, not really, but for such a difficult subject matter, it does seem like a too-light read. I didn't see the depth to it, I suppose, and it might have been better to flesh out some scenes a bit more. It definitely needed a bit more gravitas because although the subject matter has kept me thinking since I've finished it, it's not because of the book, it's just what the book inspired, it's not a topic you see covered every day and so I find myself debating it. The book just seemed too light and some of the things were a bit implausible. I do however applaud Gudenkauf for tackling the subject, despite the 'light' feel to it, I think she has done it well. I knew on some subconscious level how it would end, but I think overall I liked the novel. Implausible, yes, but highly readable all the same and I will definitely go back to read The Weight of Silence and look out for further novels from Ms. Gudenkauf.