In Lynn Austin’s novel Hidden Places, Eliza Wyatt is a young widow with three children in the 1930s. After her husband’s death she had stayed on with her intractable father-in-law at Wyatt Orchards. But now he has died as well. She’s not sure how she is going to manage, but she wants to keep the house and orchards, the only true home she has ever known. With the Depression, she couldn’t sell it, anyway.
One night while doing chores outside she is startled by a hobo. She’s not opposed to helping hobos, so she invites him in and feeds him. Then she discovers he has a nasty gash on his leg and ends up tending him through a nearly fatal infection. In the meantime, her husband’s Aunt Betty – usually called Aunt Batty because she seems to have some mental issues — ends up moving in with Eliza when Betty’s roof caves in during a heavy snowfall. But Aunt Batty turns out to be an able hand around the house, and Eliza soon relies on her help. The hobo, Gabe, offers to stay on and help to pay back what Eliza has done for him.
Gabe proves an able hand as well, but seems to have an uncanny familiarity with the farm and its needs. She is drawn to him, but afraid of the past he is not revealing to her. Yet she hides her own past, too: not even her husband knew her background.
It turns out Aunt Batty has a hidden past as well, and an unexpected underlying wisdom.
One theme or motif throughout the book is that of angels, from an opening admonition to “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrew 13:2), to Aunt Batty’s prayer for God to send a guardian angel to Eliza, to other references. Harsh, self-willed fathers turn up in a number of families, and several characters have to learn to follow their dreams despite such fathers and other obstacles. “Hidden places” in each heart come to light eventually, and, by God’s grace, are healed.
A couple of favorite quotes:
“Why did God have to make our lives so fragile and so short?” Walter thought for a moment before answering. “Because life is very precious to Him. He treasures each life He created and He wants us to treasure it, too—like fine porcelain china. God knows what it’s like to live and die in a frail human body like ours. His Son suffered physical death, Betsy, so that you and I can face it without ever being afraid.”
“All these troubles you’ve been having aren’t a punishment from God. He wants to use them to draw you closer to himself.”
Lynn’s writing and characterizations here are stellar. I was drawn in to each character’s story and ached with them through their trials and rejoiced in their triumphs. Excellent book overall.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)