In The Truth and Other Hidden Things, Bells Walker learns she is pregnant on the same day her husband, Harry, is denied tenure at his university in New York.
The future she had imagined for her forties – stable, mature, making her way as a columnist on a local paper – is undone as she, Harry and their adolescent son and daughter move to the small town of Pigkill in the Hudson Valley. Harry has got a job at Dutchess College with, once again, the lure of tenure at some unspecified future date.
Bells grapples with the discomforts of pregnancy, the embarrassment of her children, her husband’s obsession with bringing home artisan things in jars (or sometimes just the jars) and tries to find a place for herself in their new community. She struggles, though. The place is tight knit, the hipsters are ubiquitous, and there is no chance of a job for her at the local paper because of the hordes of other New York escapees that have come before. Bells feels particularly alienated by her female contemporaries who she sees as cliquey, dismissive of her and overly focused on engineering the lives of their children.
She takes out her frustration by writing a blog satirising the local community, with its cafés full of CBD-coffee and kombucha-tea guzzlers. Her old editor in New York publishes it on his site, under the name of the County Dutchess. When it starts to get attention, and her alter ego seems to be having a success she can only dream of, she writes more. But, drunk on attention, each time she pushes a little further and gets a little closer to home, until eventually it all blows up in her face.
This was a fun but also an interesting read. Beyond the humour and the cultural references is an interesting story about a woman in midlife trying to find a place for herself. She finds herself rebelling against two ideals of womanhood – her own mother who is intensely driven and puts work before everything, and her mother-in-law who believes a woman’s life should be devoted to nurturing her husband.
Bells has decided to let her children be themselves, and not to push them, but as an academic, Harry understands the value of striving and commitment. It raises the question – is Bells’s approach empowering or just benign neglect?
I loved the eccentricities of small-town life (I won’t spoil what they find when they get to their new house) and the odd juxtaposition of the locals and the well-heeled incomers. There is also a lot of sharply observed snark on lifestyle bloggers, and some poignant insights – like the way Bells never lavishes much love on her New York apartment because she’s always convinced her real life is somewhere else, about to begin.
The disappointment for me was the ending. Having set everything up so beautifully to implode, the resolution feels a little abrupt and unconvincing.
Still, The Truth and Other Hidden Things is an enjoyable, witty and engaging read about one woman’s struggle to reconcile conflicting pressures on mothers — from society and from herself.
I received a copy of The Truth and Other Hidden Things from the publisher via Netgalley.
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