“The sea and the sky are matched shades of blue, reflecting each other, making you think you could swim in the sky or fly in the sea. The water is transparent as lacy lingerie.” (page 60)
If upon entering Casalfrano you begin to assume that when The Book of Hidden Things concludes you will know with certainty why 14-year-old Art disappeared, you may be disappointed. You will be offered a variety of explanations from the most obvious to the most fantastical, but there will be no definitive answer. The Book of Hidden Things is full of contradictions from the location in which it takes place, to the events that occur.
The Book of Hidden Things opens with old friends arriving at their hometown pizza place. They have a pact, you see, for the four friends to meet annually for one night. Only last year Franco broke The Pact and now this year, Art never shows.
“This countryside is not made for walks. It rages you with wind in the winter; it burns you down in the summer…” (page 40)
Art is the lynchpin of the group, both brilliant and troubled, interested in women and men, he is the divine and the profane and for most of this book we learn of Art through the memories of his childhood friends Franco, Mauro, and Tony. Memories can be tricky things, so what we learn of Art is unreliable. Throughout the story we question the information shared about Art by his friends and through the writings he has left behind in “The Book of Hidden Things.”
What is clear is that when the boys were 14, Art disappeared for a week and no one was ever the same. The other boys were suspected of being involved with the disappearance and when Art appeared he claimed he just ran away — further tanking his reputation with the adults in town. And now the boys are in their thirties, and once again Art has disappeared. They quickly assume Art is dead either by his own hand, the mafia, or perhaps a local priest.
This story is a winding tale, lurching back to the time when Art disappeared and then forward to the quartets high school summers and then forward again to present. Things you assume will remain hidden see the bright light of day and things you assume will be made clear, remain beyond our human eyes.