Hide by Matthew Griffin (2017). Sydney: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Originally written for Social Alternatives Magazine, May 2018.
Content Warning: ‘We’ll all die someday, Frank.’
Hide is an historic romance between Wendell and Frank: two elderly gay men reaching the end of their lives together at the height of Gay Liberation. They first meet as Frank returns from war, and discover a longing for each other that neither can put into words. And although Frank believes their feelings are wrong, he finds he cannot keep himself away from Wendell. In time these young men buy a home together, secluded in the woods, and maintain their relationship in secret. But old age inevitably reveals itself when Frank has a stroke, and the now-elderly lovers are forced to make plans for each other’s mortality.
Hide speaks to that fear we all share of dying alone. Yet it also speaks to the threat of losing our queer history with the passing of elders, and how easily our recorded history can be erased. To Wendell and Frank, the tragedy of Hide is that nobody will know to remember the love story they shared out in the woods. While to this reader, Hide‘s tragedy is knowing our communal history will disappear if we don’t seek it out.
The narrative voice is reminiscent of Griffin’s career as a textbook writer, with his odd blend of writing styles driving the narrative in a surprisingly effective way. He has Wendell and Frank perform their lives as though they’re reading from a manual. And despite their concerns and ill health, they’re both determined to conduct their days the same way they always have.
But the brilliance of Griffin’s writing is in his construction of a forgivably unreliable narrator. He has Wendell make clean, almost medical comments about the changes in their daily routine, which leaves the reader feeling as much of an outsider to these men as anyone who presumed to meddle in their affairs.
The isolation Griffin imposes on his characters also left me with a hunger to know more about the time period. As far as I could surmise, Wendell and Frank represent a generation of queer men who lived between pre-war ‘romantic friendships’ and 1970s gay pulp. So they had no positive words for their longing, were victimised by the rise of McCarthyism, and felt excluded from the undeveloped language of early Gay Liberation.
For me, it doesn’t undermine Hide‘s believability to wonder what prevented these men from finding solidarity with other gay men. If anything, Hide reminds me that our communal history is made of many stories preluding our own — a lot of which we’ll never know — and that it’s both a privilege and a responsibility to live in a time where our truths no longer need to be lived with such discretion.
Stories exploring queerness from the perspective of our elders continue to find a market among our aging population. Ira Sach’s Love Is Strange (2014) follows an elderly gay couple post marriage equality, New York, who find themselves unemployed and homeless once married. While Robert Dessaix’s What Days Are For sees an old queen lust for his young, male nurse after an accident highlights his aging frailty. Cloudburst (2011) is a particularly devastating comedy about an elderly lesbian who breaks her partner out of a nursing home. Hopefully we can expect to see more brilliant love stories like these in the years to come.
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