Celeste Ng’s enthralling dissection of suburbia meets Shirley Jackson’s creeping dread in this propulsive literary noir, when a sudden tragedy exposes the depths of deception and damage in a Long Island suburb—pitting neighbor against neighbor and putting one family in terrible danger.
Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world.
But menace skulks beneath the surface of this exclusive enclave, making its residents prone to outrage. When the Wilde family moves in, they trigger their neighbors’ worst fears. Dad Arlo’s a gruff has-been rock star with track marks. Mom Gertie’s got a thick Brooklyn accent, with high heels and tube tops to match. Their weird kids cuss like sailors. They don’t fit with the way Maple Street sees itself.
Though Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroeder—a lonely college professor repressing a dark past—welcomed Gertie and her family at first, relations went south during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, when the new best friends shared too much, too soon. By the time the story opens, the Wildes are outcasts.
As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.
A riveting and ruthless portrayal of American suburbia, Good Neighbors excavates the perils and betrayals of motherhood and friendships and the dangerous clash between social hierarchy, childhood trauma, and fear.
I picked up Good Neighbors thinking that it was a thriller that would help pull me out of a reading slump. What I found was not a thriller at all, but a compelling story set in the not-so-distant future with echoes of reality.
Good Neighbors is probably best categorized as literary fiction. While there is death and murder within its pages, this book is really one that explores the social dynamics of middle class suburbia in the near future (2027). You know from the start bad things are to come that will be long remembered in the future, but what those things are and how they transpire is the substance of the novel.
It took me awhile to finish Good Neighbors. However, that is really because I went into it with expectations of a typical thriller rather than a disturbing social commentary. While the novel is a brief 304 pages, it is one you will want to savor. And if you are like me, one you will also have to set aside at times because you will be so angry. While the events of the book seem wild, they are so plausible that they sneak beneath your skin and fester.
The main characters of Good Neighbors are well-developed and created in a manner encourage you to see someone you know in their image. One of my only critiques of the novel is that there are quite a few characters since it is really a book about a neighborhood. However, it is not too difficult to keep them straight since they are pretty distinct individuals.
I really enjoyed that Langan interwove news articles from the current and future timelines into the narrative. It added another dimension and narrator to the story. It was also interesting to see how differently the media portrayed the events versus how the characters experienced them.
Overall, I really enjoyed Good Neighbors and recommend it. However, I think it is important to know that the book is not a psychological thriller as it is billed in some places. Instead, you should expect some criticism of group think and suburbia dashed with climate change.
February 2, 2021