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These Things Hidden

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

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Skillfully Crafted Novel

  • Feb 4, 2011

Heather Gudenkauf’s second novel deals with a difficult subject: infant murder. Told in first and third person by a quartet of female protagonists, it opens with Allison Glenn, the main protagonist who is getting out of prison after serving half of a ten-year sentence for the murder of her newborn baby. Her lawyer, Devin, escorts her to a halfway house run by pragmatic-but tender-hearted Oleta. Allison wants desperately to put the past behind her and start anew but finds obstacles at every turn. Her sister, once a confidant, won’t answer the letters she’s written; her parents want nothing to do with her, and it seems her reputation has preceded her because the other house residents taunt her with cruel notes and dolls plunged into toilets and buckets–a grim reminded of her infant daughter being tossed into the river.

Younger sister, Brynn, has struggled to get on with her life after the tragic event, but she has never measured up to the perfect older sister, the straight A student and athletic champion on a fast track to a stellar career as an attorney. In fact, Brynn finds getting on in school following her sister’s imprisonment so traumatic that she tries to overdose on sleeping pills and is sent packing to her grandmother’s. She’s not the scholar her sister was, but she seeks a career working with companion animals.

Claire Kelby runs a bookshop. With husband Jonathan, the infertile couple have adopted a baby boy five years earlier–an infant abandoned at their local fire station. Joshua is a special little boy, loving, but with social issues. Attending kindergarten is a hard task for him, made even more difficult when the bookstore is robbed and his adoptive mother injured.

Charm Tullia, just twenty years old, lives with her stepfather Gus, a retired fireman in the final stages of lung cancer. Charm cares deeply for Gus while juggling a nurses’ training course at the local college and working part-time for Claire at the bookshop. Charm’s mother is a love-em-and-leave-em woman living with one of a long succession of men, and her brother disappeared years ago. Gus is Charm’s family and she nurtures him as best she can.

Ms. Gudenkauf’s story switches viewpoints between all four women who are connected, but this fact is not revealed right away. Each character has a voice and both good and bad traits that make them real to the reader. I identified less with Brynn, because she seemed the least capable of dealing with issues. The other three are strong, even in their weaknesses. Ms. Gudenkauf has a wonderful way of humanizing each of them to the point that I felt compelled to read on past my bedtime to see what would happen next.

Even when you unravel all the threads, the ending will surprise you. This is a skillfully crafted story with many threads, all neatly woven into an exciting and dramatic conclusion. Ms. Gudenkauf’s present tense third person use is highly effective in this tale of loss and redemption.

I look for more powerful stories from this clearly qualified new author.

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More These Things Hidden reviews
review by . April 17, 2011
Blind in the darkness, you sense something in the room with you and reach out. There's a large, smooth flat surface, and on it something covered in a sheet. Touch here: a smooth, supple curve tapering down. Touch there: something round and hard. Touch again: four or five sticks connected at the base. All cold, so cold and still and silent.      It's only when you put the pieces together that the full impact of the secret is revealed.      In These …
About the reviewer
Suzanne Barrett ()
Ranked #115
A former facility engineer and Kensington author, Suzanne believes in sharing stories of romance and adventure spiced with a bit of mystery and intrigue. Suzanne and her husband live in the Santa Cruz … more
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