A Hidden Place – Robert Charles Wilson

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Travis, a young man come to live in a small plains town with his estranged aunt and uncle, finds there Anna, their mysterious lodger, and Nancy, as much a misfit as himself. Together, they gradually get more involved with Anna and with each other.

I think A Hidden Place was the second Wilson book I read, after Gypsies. Or perhaps the other way around. Either way, the books struck me, and I picked up several of his books in the late 80s and early 90s. There was nothing startling about them – just quiet, somewhat eerie books about normal people. In some ways, they’re like Clifford Simak’s books or Jack Finney’s, but more distant from their central characters.

A Hidden Place (the title really has little to do with the book) takes place in a Depression-era, Steinbeckian world of freight trains, hobo jungles, and small town rigidity. The events are minor, the concerns mainly personal. Travis is a classic loner, but a genuine one, not a Hollywood cutout. Nancy is an equally classic small town girl looking for something more. Wilson does a very nice job of presenting two young people trying to find themselves, with the mysterious stranger more of a catalyst than focal point. He switches points of view frequently but clearly, including a deft hand with Bone, the rangy hobo traveling the country with no clear purpose. Most of the foreground characters, good and bad, feel like real people, though some key minor actors are a bit flimsy. Sadly, it’s only in the middle of the book that Nancy really emerges, fading back after that to her supporting cast role.

This one of Wilson’s stronger books, from a more character-centered early period, before he went slightly off track with Bios and later the Spin series. It’s about mysteries and people more than answers.

Not the book if you’re looking for wild adventure and space opera, but definitely worth your time for something smaller, closer, and more human.

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