When Jeff Manning is hit by a car and killed walking home from work, his wife Claire is devastated, as expected. But Tish, Jeff’s coworker, is also blindsided by Jeff’s death, unable to cope. Who was Jeff to Tish? What secrets was Jeff keeping from his wife?
A thoughtful and emotional novel, Hidden takes a premise that seems cliche and turns it into something new. McKenzie writes sympathetic, three-dimensional characters that readers will immediately connect with.
Hidden by Catherine McKenzie is an examination of two womens’ grief at the loss of one man, Jeff. At the beginning, it’s not clear what the nature of Tish and Jeff’s relationship was. Were they just good friends? Were they having an affair? Or was it something in between, a nebulous and complicated relationship that didn’t really have any sort of definition? McKenzie handles this tension well, ensuring that there are no easy answers in this novel.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions about what Jeff and Tish were up to in Hidden, and I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed by the premise. After all, “widow finds husband’s secrets after his death” is a plot that’s been done quite frequently, and one thing I’ve always admired McKenzie for is that her plots are really unique. But I’m glad to say that McKenzie handled it very well. Both Claire and Tish act in unexpected ways; this novel isn’t a cliche, even if that’s what the summary might imply.
Indeed, McKenzie is excellent at writing the unexpected, which shows on every page of Hidden. It’s not just Jeff that had his secrets. Before she and Jeff met, Claire dated Jeff’s older brother, Tim. It’s always been a source of tension between Jeff and Claire; but how does Claire actually feel about Tim? It’s been easy to ignore him, given that he lives out of the country, but of course he will return for Jeff’s funeral. Claire must face her own difficult issues with Tim’s return. (And before you start worrying, no, this isn’t widow-falls-into-bed-with-ex-at-an-inappropriate-time either. McKenzie is too smart and bold for that.)
The author richly develops both Tish and Claire; readers will be able to sympathize with both women. McKenzie takes a premise that has been done before and reinvents it, making it something new and unique. If you enjoy smart women’s fiction, Catherine McKenzie’s books should absolutely be on your list; she’s such a talented author and breathes life into her stories and characters in a way that’s really difficult to do.
Other books by Catherine McKenzie: