I wanted to kick myself for deciding my weary body couldn’t take one more line and I missed an opportunity to meet Deborah Reed, author of the book Things We Set on Fire, in New York. The story of Vivvie and her estranged daughters Elin and Kate hit me with an emotion so deep, I spent three days studying my time with my children, worried that my periods of emotional checkouts had caused them irreversible harm. Not so much with Catherine McKenzie’s novel, Hidden. Hidden also explores family secrets, revealing more about each character as the reader follows the lives of three people affected by the death of the man who ties them all together.
Each book has a character who made a choice to leave their hometowns, and the consequences of that choice. Elin left Florida, determined to escape the weight of a life that stifles, for something; anything. In leaving, Elin loses her boyfriend to her sister, her mom to a memory that her childish mind could not comprehend, and family ties. Hidden is the opposite. Claire RETURNS to her hometown, determined to keep a promise to practice law with her father in an attempt to fill a void left when her sister escaped to the sunny West Coast. By returning to her hometown Claire loses her boyfriend, Tim, who also wanted to eschew the confines of small time life in hopes of bigger adventure.
What is difficult to understand is that in both stories, the rejected lover turns to the sibling of his/her missing love. Neal takes up with Kate a mere four days after Elin leaves him, causing the siblings rift to further widen. Claire falls in love with Nick, Tim’s younger brother, and each tried to build a life on a tenuous foundation. Trading one sibling for another does not negate the baggage that comes with these new loves. Both books explored the emotions that occur when a lover tries, in vain, to substitute unrequited love with a love that is a placeholder for emotion. With the exception of my sister bringing Idris Elba or Benedict Cumberbatch around, there is no chance of me mirroring any of these characters actions.
What I liked about The Things We Set on Fire is that I could identify with Vivvie. Vivvie made a decision to protect her family, but that decision formed a wedge between her daughters and caused six years of miscommunication that could have been better spent knowing her grandchildren and mending the relationships between her daughters.
Hidden introduced infidelity as the main topic, Nick’s insecurity about his wife and brother’s past relationship shaped his actions with his coworker, Tish. As a wife, I wanted to hate Tish for her reckless pursuit of a married man, but it takes two to tangle and Nick was the obvious aggressor in this relationship. Plus Tish’s character was crafted in a way that made me understand how she could seek out validation in a stranger.
Both books are a study in human behavior, family ties, and how secrets can alter relationships. Readers will enjoy time spent with these families as they sort out how to rebuild after tragedy.
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