Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Book Review: A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

In a suburban neighborhood in North Carolina that sounds an awful lot like where I grew up, the nouveau riche are tearing down the older homes and putting up McMansions. African-American college professor Valerie has been unhappily watching a giant extravaganza complete with swimming pool go up directly behind her beloved ranch. She is disinclined to like the Whitmans, and they her as well, so when her son and the Whitman's daughter start dating, it's not good news. In fact Juniper isn't supposed to be dating at all, having gone through a "purity ceremony" a few years earlier with her step-father Brad.

When things blow up, it's spectacularly bad. In fact, you're told on the first page that someone will die, so I read with dread throughout, as I kept trying to anticipate who that would be (and changing my mind several times.) The neighborhood narrates the novel as a kind of Greek chorus, but it really works and is unobtrusive. It has the added effect of making us, the readers, complicit in some of the bad acts. Because I could be in this book club. I could live in this neighborhood. This could happen nearly anywhere. Filled with juicy, timely topics like race, class, grief, assumptions, money, and sex, this would be an ideal book club pick. It stayed in my mind for weeks after I read it. I was bummed at first when I heard Ms. Fowler's new book wasn't a historical like her previous ones, which I loved, but this one rises to the challenge and proves she is as adept at contemporary novels.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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