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Matthew Griffin

Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a veteran, meet after the Second World War. But, in this declining textile town in a southern US state, their love holds real danger. Severing nearly all ties with the rest of the world, they carve out a home for themselves on the outskirts of town. For decades, their routine of self-reliant domesticity - Wendell’s cooking, Frank’s care for a yard no one sees, and the vicarious drama of courtroom TV - seems to protect them.

But when Wendell finds Frank lying motionless outside at the age of eighty-three, their carefully crafted life together begins to unravel. As Frank’s memory and physical strength deteriorate, Wendell struggles in vain to hold on to the man he once knew. Faced with giving care beyond his capacity, he must come to terms with the consequences of half a century in seclusion: the different lives they might have lived - and the impending, inexorable loss of the one they had.

‘This is a great love story’ Edmund White, author of A Boy’s Own Story

Review

Matthew Griffin’s debut novel is a beautiful character study. Wendell and Frank fall in love in an era before gay liberation and they remain stuck in that time for over fifty years, unable to trust a world that has moved on without them. When Wendell first catches sight of Frank during one cold twilit afternoon just after the Second World War, he thinks Frank is the tallest man he had ever seen as he observes him standing on the train tracks in front of Wendell’s taxidermy business, his shoulders hunched and constricted by his ill-fitting jacket. So begins a relationship between the two men during a time when their love could jail or institutionalise them.

Heartbreakingly, cutting themselves off from family and friends for decades they come to rely and trust no one but each other. The purchase of a small house in the North Carolina countryside affords a freedom of sorts. For years living remotely they venture into town together only when vital, going about their errands pretending to be strangers in order not to draw attention to their lifestyle. But after arriving home from a grocery run one afternoon, Wendell discovers eighty-three-year-old Frank lying in their vegetable garden. Their secret life together is in danger of exposure

This is one gorgeously written novel. I cannot tell you how many times I re-read paragraphs aloud just to actually hear their composition. It’s so refreshing to read a love story about two older men, especially when it’s a relationship that has spanned years in the shadows. Being a gay man in my forties in a committed relationship for the last fifteen years, this struck a chord with me even though I came of age in a time after gay lib. This is not a political novel, but while we are still yearning for marriage equality here in Australia the isolation that Wendell and Frank find themselves in resonated with me.


Jason Austin is a buyer and bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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