Wendell and Frank, the elderly lovers of Matthew Griffin’s debut novel, are an annoying pair of hairpins. When the reader meets them, they are crotchety old guys living in some moribund little town in North Carolina. Soon, you learn the two of them were sort of curmudgeonly even when they were young.
Wendell, the narrator of the tale, would also probably object to him and Frank being called “lovers.” Though the action takes place in the waning years of the 20th century, Wendell pretends to be Frank’s brother when he’s taken to the hospital for a stroke. He also disapproves of the way younger gay men flaunt themselves; the sight of Nate Berkus on the cover of Architectural Digest with his husband and baby would have given him the vapors. The book isn’t called Hide for nothing; Frank and Wendell are comfortable in their closet. He and Frank have chosen to live in a place just far enough from town so they can do their shopping but discourage busybodies.
Still, after a while the two begin to grow on you. Wendell, rejected by his family, is a misanthrope. A taxidermist, his relationship with Frank begins while Wendell prepares a deer—surely one of the squickiest getting-to-know-you scenes in modern literature. Frank, who comes from a loving family, ultimately rejects them to be with Wendell. They are each other’s entire world. Why else would Wendell spend hours baking complicated cakes or buying up every last fruitcake in town because they’re the only food that appeals to Frank after his stroke? The reader understands, with an anticipatory grief, that the stroke has not only taken Frank’s appetite but has left him weak and confused. Wendell will simply not be able to take care of him for long.
Frank and Wendell’s tragedy is that they’ve been forced, by law and then by habit, to forswear those networks that would have made the vulnerabilities of old age more bearable. There are no friends, no babies, no grandbabies. Even pets don’t fare very well. So, though Griffin fills his story with prickly humor and wit, and a dash or two of gruesomeness, in the end Hide is a book that breaks your heart.