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Imagine being a new mother, having just given birth to a child you can’t fathom being able to care for. Imagine being all alone, desperate, afraid, and having no one to turn to. Now imagine standing at the edge of a frigid, turbulent river with your newborn in your arms. What happens next? Sounds like a story straight from the latest headlines, doesn’t it? In fact, I came up for the idea for my new novel These Things Hidden after I heard a radio news story describing how centuries ago, a deeply concerned Pope Innocent III created the Medieval foundling wheel. The Pope, after becoming aware of the large number of unwanted newborns that were caught within fishermen’s nets after they were tossed into the Tiber River by their despairing mothers, ordered the construction of rotating platforms located in the walls of churches in Rome that allowed women to anonymously leave their newborns with the nuns inside the church walls.
As of May 2010, every state except for Nebraska and the District of Columbia have some sort of Safe Haven legislation which allows parents to safely surrender a child without fear of arrest for abandonment. Although exact numbers are not known, since the inception of safe haven laws over 1,000 children have been safely relinquished. In the news there have also been many high profile instances of desperate girls and women abandoning their newborns with disastrous results. From this, I decided to write a novel about an infant left at a Safe Haven site that is told from the perspectives of the four women who pass in and out of the child’s life and who love him in their unique, complicated ways.
As a sister and a mother myself, I wanted to examine the intricate connection between sisters and mothers and their children. The main characters in These Things Hidden find themselves all loving one little boy and will do whatever it takes, no matter how misguided, to keep him safe. Sisters Allison and Brynn Glenn, grew up together in the same household with demanding, severe parents but are complete opposites who find themselves facing very different futures. Bookstore owner Claire Kelby wants nothing more than to be a good mother to her adoptive son, Joshua, but constantly questions her abilities and Charm Tullia, a young nursing student caring for you terminally ill stepfather just wants to do the right thing. It takes the events of one devastating night to send each of these characters reeling and asking themselves, Does the singular act of giving birth make one a mother? Is a mother born or made?
As with my first novel The Weight of Silence, I return to my home state of Iowa in These Things Hidden. Because I live right next to the beautiful Mississippi River I’ve had the opportunity to watch its rise and fall and how it has the power to alter the landscape of the earth around its banks. In These Things Hidden I explore how water relates to birth as well as its transforming, cleansing and destructive properties. Along with the women in the novel, the Druid River that snakes its way through the fictional Iowa town of Linden Falls, becomes a commanding presence within the story.
These Things Hidden is a novel about regret and starting over. It is a story about forgiveness and finding one’s place in the world. Above all it is about finding promise in the darkest of days and hope amidst the deepest despair.
- Heather Gudenkauf
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