Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, May 29, 2015

He hangs around here.

Forgotten Books: A Hidden Place by Robert Charles Wilson

In the course of a year I usually read twenty or twenty five novels that impress me. Some for characterization, some for story, some for milieu. But I rarely read a novel that astonishes me.

When Robert Charles Wilson's first novel A Hidden Place appeared as a Bantam paperback original in 1986, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I received it along with three or four other science fiction Bantams. I think I put it on the bottom of the stack. The other novels were by writers I knew. Whatever reluctance I felt vanished when I read the first page.

The story here concerns a young man named Travis Fisher who is sent to live with his aunt because his mother, a troubled woman, has died. What he finds in his aunt's house is an intolerable uncle who demands that Travis lives by steely rules he himself frequently breaks. He also finds Anna, the strange beautiful woman who boards upstairs. Travis is so stunned by her he can barely form sentences. He also takes up Nancy Wilcox, a smart, witty girl who is bursting to escape the brutal social order of this small town.

Parallel to this story line is the one of the odd hobo Bone. Because the novel is set in the worst years of the Depression, Bone becomes our tour guide, showing us exactly how people of various kinds behaved during this time. Bone is a transfixing figure, as mysterious as Anna and perhaps linked to her in some way.

I don't want to start listing plot twists here. All I'll say is that each is cleverly set up and magnificently sprung on the reader. What I'd rather talk about is the writing. In the course of reading A Hidden Place, I heard many voices--among them Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner and the Theodore Dreiser who wrote An American Tragedy. The irony is that Wilson is a Canadian. He may or may not have read any of these writers. But except for John Steinbeck, I've never read place description to equal the power and poetry of Wilson's shantytowns or railroad goons; nor have I encountered a better picture of the small towns of that era.

But most of all the book is about people. Wilson's characters will take up permanent residence in your memory. So many of them ache for things they can't have, for things they don't even understand. Wilson writes with a razor.

Twenty years later we find that Robert Charles Wilson is a highly regarded science fiction writer, winner of many awards and several lengthy studies. I believe I've read every novel he's published. But much as I love them I always go back to this one. In its sorrows and its griefs and the beauties of its writing, we find a rare kind of truth, a statement about what it means to be human.

Sergio Angelini, CAROL, Patricia Highsmith
Joe Barone, TINOS, Jefferey Siger
Bernadette, CROOKED HOUSE, Agatha Christie
Martin Edwards, NIGHTMARE COTTAGE, G.M. Wilson
Curt Evans, CHILD'S PLAY, Reginald Hill
Ed Gorman, THE PLASTIC NIGHTMARE, Richard Neely
John Hegenberge, THE SPHINX EMERALD, H. Bedford Jones
Rock Horton, D-99, H.B. Fyfe
Nick Jones, THE TOWER, P.M. Hubbard
Jon Jordan, SO NUDE, SO DEAD, Ed McBain
Margot Kinberg, IN THE BLOOD, Lisa Unger
Kate Laity, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, Joan Lindsey
B.F. Lawson, DEATH OF A BUSYBODY, Elizabeth Linington
Steve Lewis, LASSITER, Paul Levine
Todd Mason, JOY IN OUR CAUSE, Carol Emshwiller
Neer, DEATH TAKES LIVING, Miles Burton
J. F. Norris, THE CASE OF THE ROLLING BONES, Erle Stanley Gardner
James Reasoner, HAUNTED MESA, Donald Bayne Hobart
Richard Robinson, CARDS ON THE TABLE, Agatha Christie
Gerard Saylor, A NECESSARY END, Peter Robinson
Kerrie Smith, FROZEN OUT, Quentin Bates
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, MR. MONK AND THE DIRTY COP, Lee Goldberg
TracyK. PARTNERS IN CRIME, Agatha Christie


Charles Gramlich said...

Some good links to follow.

TracyK said...

Patti, Richard Robinson pointed out to me that the link to my post is incorrect. It goes to Ed Gorman's site, which had a great review for a book and author I had never heard of. My link should be:

I always appreciate you including my reviews here. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

There are several here I haven't seen before - time to look 'em up! And thanks for including mine :-)