A young woman is brutally attacked in her rural Indiana home and almost left for dead. Her memory is patchy, evidence inconclusive, yet in court she insists that it was her extremely jealous husband who did the deed; of that she is absolutely certain. On the basis of her testimony, he gets convicted and ends up in prison. Justice is served, her life goes on. And then six years later comes shocking news: another man confesses to the crime leaving beyond any doubt that her husband has in fact been innocent all along. How could she have made such a mistake? Has she been tricked by her own mind?
Throughout the novel we are transported to different points in Maggie’s life, from that initial scene with her lying unconscious on the floor, back to 1994 when she first met her future husband Nate, and then fast forward to present time as she pores over court documents, trying to understand what exactly happened on that fateful day. There are constant flashbacks to different events in Nate and Maggie’s married life. We get to learn about their family backgrounds, personal differences, and New Harmony where they live – once a utopian community, now a somewhat stifling Indiana backwater town. In hindsight, they all point to something deeply unsettling.
The main element of suspense, though, is the gradual revealing of Nate’s character, from seemingly trifling and innocuous signs of possessiveness to full-blown acts of violence – both mental and physical. Although there isn’t much graphic detail, we can fully understand how she could convince herself of Nate’s guilt. Together with her, we struggle with his apparent innocence. Perhaps even more, we struggle with her initial acceptance of a life that would go on to limit her agency, eroding it bit by bit – as life in traditional, patriarchal marriage frequently does.
Without being explicitly so, there is something feminist about this book. At least it can be easily interpreted from that perspective, as a critique of contemporary marriage where the man still has the final say. (Or else!) A cautionary tale it is, also when it comes to the subject of memory: how much of what we can recollect is actually true? How easy is it to give credence to our own distortions – distortions we aren’t even aware of?
“Hidden” is Paul Jaskunas debut novel, but it reads like the work of a seasoned writer. He’s currently a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art and you can read his poetry and essays on his website. Readers of this book can use additional resources such as the Reader Group Guide with discussion questions available from the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
VOCABULARY EXERCISE FOR EFL/ESL STUDENTS (levels C1/C2)
Find the words in the text above with the following meaning (the first letter and the total number of letters given in brackets):
- idealistic, aiming for something perfect (u, 7)
- something that makes you feel extremely uncomfortable; oppressive (s, 8)
- understanding or perception of an event after it has occurred (h, 9)
- to remember, recall (r, 9)
- the ability to act and make your own choices (a, 6)
- something that serves as a warning (c, 10)
- producing clear, vivid, detailed mental images (g, 7)
- something that causes anxiety and makes you uneasy (u, 10)
- a place where there is no progress or development (b, 9)
- inconsistent, uneven, irregular (p, 6)