Brett Ann Stanciu, Hidden View (2015)
If you’re tired of seeing the same books from the same big-name publishers hyped everywhere, and would like to discover some quality under-the-radar fiction that not everyone knows about, I have got something for you. Hidden View by Brett Ann Stanciu is a true hidden gem, a novel with a distinctive and haunting voice that taps into universal, archetypal themes while being grounded in a very particular place.
The voice belongs to Fern, a young woman who became pregnant and married at nineteen, and now finds herself and her young daughter trapped on a failing Vermont hill farm with an increasingly distant and brutal husband. When her husband’s brother returns to claim his inheritance, love, fear, desire, and pain mingle explosively.
If this all sounds too depressing and maudlin for words, it isn’t — and that’s in large part what impressed me so much about Stanciu’s writing. Yes, she unflinchingly portrays the difficult realities of Fern’s life, but most of all she makes us feel the presence of Fern herself, the strength of her essential being that endures in the face of hardship and finds joy, wisdom, grace in this most unlikely of places. Through the precious, painful gifts of motherhood, by the cultivation of growing things, in her awe and wonder at the natural world, she grows toward the light and we suffer and grow along with her.
Stanciu’s prose is sometimes as flamboyant as a maple grove in October, sometimes plain as an unpainted pine board. She knows the art of suggesting much and stating little, of bringing together inner and outer images in a poetic alchemy.
I leaned against the barn’s cornerboard, wide as my back, stretching from my heels to far above my head. Make myself so, I thought, for my child, as solid as this barn that has stood here, uncomplaining, for so many decades. The weakness of my careening heart I could stamp into the earth and set my foot upon it. Who would need a heart when I had my strong hands? I pushed off from the barn and headed up the drive, snow whirling. Wind blew icy and wet on my face. It filled my bones and muscles, swooped me up in its great embrace, slitted my eyes.
Fern is no saint, and she doesn’t always make smart choices, but her story is all the more riveting thereby. Stanciu has shown how modern people in an ancient landscape struggle to make their way against the forces of nature and their own demons, trying to find and save what is of value in themselves and the land. It’s a story that deserves to find many readers who will love this brave, piercingly honest novel as much as I did.