Matthew Griffin’s novel Hide tells the story of a relationship throughout its entire life, and how the world around that relationship evolves and influences their love. Post-World War II, America, two men meet, fall in love; illegal at the time and filled with shame and secrets for the men. We alternate in each chapter between a contemporary story – these men old, still together, their bodies starting to fall apart – and their young lives coming together.
I started this book interested, non-committed, compelled along. But quietly, surely, the beauty and tragedy of the lives that are being recounted to us reveals itself and takes hold. Nothing is told, but it is shown, so the importance of what you are reading comes upon you slowly.
It is the story of a relationship, special because of history, and gripping because of the beautiful writing: “He stares at his palms, turned up in submission like dogs’ pale, tender bellies.”. Moments like the one below are devastatingly factual as well as beautiful in its brevity and feeling:
“In the psychiatric literature, in the diagnostic manuals, they described the pathological disturbance of the homosexual, in Congress they railed against degenerates, deviants, pederasts, subversives, sodomites, sexual psychopaths, in the New York Times it was perverts, it was unnatural relations, but for the papers down here, even that was too specific, too close to describing some actual thing. When those men were arrested, it was for crimes against nature, as though they’d been caught kicking up a public flower bed. That’s how truly unspeakable it was. We didn’t have the words.”
The internalisation of what we now know to be a deeply immoral societal position on homosexual relationships into the lives and love of these two men is just so very sad. And then, on top of that, further tragedy is laid on as we watch both the bodies and the minds of them start to fall apart with age. There is some joy – despite the law, despite society, despite their family – they shared a life together. But that life was hidden, and now as elderly men the regular but heartbreaking tragedy of ageing lays further unfairness upon them.
There is an intimate smallness to their lives, in both the contemporary and historical chapters. Borne through necessity – their relationship had to be a secret so they did not tempt arrest, violence, scorn – the interiority of their relationship is somewhat reflected in the small, quiet details shared in the writing, adding to the slow, quiet reveal of tension and beauty.
This is a wondrous, devastating book. It is so quiet, brilliant and sad. The reality of this story is heartbreaking in its smallness. Hide emerged to be a gripping, shattering read.