It’s difficult to find a balance between reading only what pleases you and stretching your horizons from time to time. I like to try to be open minded and read a bit of everything but there are definitely certain genres that I avoid because I just don’t find them to my tastes personally. Not one to turn away free books, I accepted an offer to read Amanda Prowse’s recent release, The Art of Hiding, even though it falls into a subgenre of “women’s lit” that I usually avoid. While it is an incredible example of that genre and certainly addresses valuable themes related to personal identity and self-worth, it speaks to those themes with a heavy handedness I personally find annoying and distracting.
Nina and her husband, Finn, are well off and their sons go to a prestigious school, but she has never forgotten what it was like growing up in a very different environment. When her husband dies suddenly in a car accident, Nina’s world is turned upside down, but for more reasons than just losing the man she loved and her children their father. She learns that they were in fact, greatly in debt—bankrupt, actually—and it feels like the blows fall relentlessly in the immediate aftermath of that emotional toll. Nina must confront her relationship with her past while negotiating single-parenthood and the reevaluation of everything she thought she knew about her husband and their marriage.
One subtle choice that I greatly appreciated through the novel was the choice for the reader never to “meet” Nina’s husband, Finn, directly. With his death early on, all the accounts and depictions of him in the book are filtered through characters’ varying perspectives. There is no definitive hold anyone can have on Finn. This makes navigating a novel focused so closely on Nina’s perspective more interesting. Her grief and her sons’ grief are tangible but the reader remains detached at a personal level from Finn himself. It forces the reader to identify with Nina and assess Finn along the way with each new scrap of information, each new insight offered. Nina’s insights and revelations about her marriage and what her relationship with Finn did to her sense of self show the complexity of navigating relationships and how much work must go into them in order to also stay independent and self-contained people. It shows that even with genuine love and affection on both sides, intimacy and trust don’t necessarily follow naturally.
While much is made of Nina’s relationship with her older sister and there are flashes of their childhood and the impact of their mother’s death, I had a difficult time connecting to that plot and that relationship. The details are all there and there are brief glimpses but where having the memories of Finn filtered through Nina’s memory and establishing that distance worked, I think in this case it hurts the reader’s understanding of their relationship. It feels informed instead of genuine. When they fight, there are clearly deeper issues at play but the reader is only ever told about the origins of those issues rather than seeing them first-hand. Even when Nina remembers them, it’s from a very different perspective than what it would be if there were short third-person flashbacks scattered through the text.
So I suppose my disappointment with the novel’s “heavy-handedness” could really be a side effect of the novel’s limited perspective, which is an issue I have with many novels structured that way. But, that comes down to personal preference as much as anything.