I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
Narrator: Nicole Lewis
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on February 2, 2021
Length: 10 hrs and 11 mins
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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.
Arlo Wilde, a gruff has-been rock star who’s got nothing to show for his fame but track marks, is always two steps behind the other dads. His wife, beautiful ex-pageant queen Gertie, feels socially ostracized and adrift. Spunky preteen Julie curses like a sailor and her kid brother Larry is called “Robot Boy” by the kids on the block.
Their next-door neighbor and Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroeder—a lonely community college professor repressing her own dark past—welcomes Gertie and family into the fold. Then, during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, the new best friends share too much, too soon.
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 that spins out of control. 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.
“We had a problem on the block and the cops wouldn’t solve it. So we solved our own problem.”
The residents of Maple Street only look perfect on the outside, of course. There’s also the giant sinkhole that opened up in the neighborhood park that kind of mars things. When the Wilde’s moved into the neighborhood, they knew they didn’t belong (Gertie an ex-beauty queen with breast implants, her husband Arlo an ex-rocker with tattoos covering his track marks) but they had hoped to find their own place amongst the impeccable families. Rhea Schroeder, the undisputed Queen of Maple Street, decides to look past her differences and befriend Gertie. One night, dark secrets are shared and Rhea misinterprets Gertie’s reaction and decides to turn on her instead, telling the neighborhood everything that Gertie didn’t want getting out. When Rhea’s daughter Shelley falls into the sinkhole, she blames Gertie and her family for her death and sets in motion irreparable devastation.
The story is set in a world much like our own in the year 2028 where it’s clear the current climate has deteriorated rapidly. The sinkhole spews oil, somehow causes the residents to have patchy phone connections, and it continues to expand at a seemingly alarming rate. On top of the timely climate narrative, there’s also the inclusion of newspaper and academic articles from 15-years into the future that reference “the Maple Street Murders” which give the story a true-crime feel. Personally, I think the climax would’ve been much more shocking without the articles providing the bleak foreshadowing of what’s to come.
The whole thing is a very unsettling type of dark. It’s a plausible story about the power of a lie and their abilities to destroy regardless of authenticity. It also shows how terrifyingly quick things can escalate and get out of hand. Sarah Langan is known for writing horror and she certainly transitioned well into suburban horror, but everything was severe and over the top to the point where the heavy-handedness became oppressive. Some of her phrasing and the way she chose to describe things was needless too, much like this line:
“The man’s expression was animalistic and ugly. A sweaty sex face on the verge of completion.”
Good Neighbors is a laborious and unnerving study on the perfection of suburban America: just because everything looks perfect doesn’t mean it is.