Title: The Neighbors Are Watching
Author: Debra Ginsberg
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
First line: There was a breeze high up, rustling through the palm trees, but the air below was still and hot.
The suburban neighborhood of Fuller Court is a quiet place. People keep to themselves, living their own lives – while secretly judging all the neighbors. Secrets have a way of coming out, however, and the arrival of Diana Jones, pregnant teenage daughter of Joe Montana, sets up a chain reaction of revelations and dysfunction. When the neighbors are required to evacuate during a wildfire, everyone returns home safely – everyone, that is, except Diana. The neighbors are left wondering what happened to the young mother. Was the prospect of single motherhood simply too much, causing her to run and leave her baby behind? Or is there a more sinister reason?
I struggled while writing the above plot synopsis. There isn’t a way to write it without making this book sound like a thriller – and it’s not. Yes, there is a mystery involving Diana’s disappearance, but this is more a book of suburban fiction, dealing with personal and relationship issues. When I first realized that, I was a bit disappointed, but I soon settled in to read about the terrible messes the inhabitants of Fuller Court had made of their lives.
Debra Ginsberg is a gifted author; I thoroughly enjoyed her novel The Grift a couple years ago, and her memoir About My Sisters is excellent. She gets people, knows how to get inside her characters’ heads and give the reader an accurate picture of who they are and why they do the things they do. She did this with all of the people in The Neighbors Are Watching, and did it well. Unfortunately, none of the characters rose to the forefront as someone I could care about. There was something missing emotionally that kept me from connecting to any of the characters. So, while I wanted to keep reading to discover what had happened to Diana, I didn’t particularly care about the outcome of any of the other characters.
I can’t help wondering, too, if my lukewarm reaction is related to the fact that I expected a page-turner of a thriller, and got a character study instead. It doesn’t matter, though, because I still enjoy Ginsberg’s writing style, and will definitely be reading more of her work.