Review of A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Fowler touches on big, intriguing issues related to guilt and innocence and race, but I felt as though she didn't ultimately dig as deeply into them as I wanted her to.
I really enjoyed Fowler's book A Well-Behaved Woman. However, this book didn't feel real and true to me in the same way.
The strengths to me here were the issues Fowler explored starting about two-thirds of the way through the story--the incredible power of allegations, the guilty-until-proven-innocent nature of accusations, the impossibility of ever eliminating the shadow of such charges, and the generally intensely difficult and unfair factors related to race and racism that underlie all of the late events of the book.
But many of the other elements in this book frustrated me, whether because they felt too deliberately constructed, because they were said to be true yet felt too unjustified within the story, or because they just rang untrue for me, drawing me out of the story.
The outdated views of women, purity, careers, and education expressed repeatedly and in detail by Juniper's family may still be held by some people, but to my mind they are so far beyond typical in the South or anywhere in the U.S. that I kept imagining the book was set decades ago (yet the smartphones place the story as more modern).
Fowler tells us repeatedly that the measured character of Xavier has an enormous and uncontrollable interest in Juniper, but I never truly believed it. This connection just didn't seem to fit, and we weren't shown plausible reasons for it.
He was mentally already checked out of town in favor of his amazing future as a musician and his college scholarship, and he's soaking up the last few months of summer with his friends. Despite being told there was a romance between Xavier and Juniper, the basis of this romance just didn't seem to be built at all--not even as an irrepressible animal attraction or some illogical draw. It was difficult for me to read passages in Juniper's often-naive, sometimes creepily culpable ignorant point of view. She didn't seem intelligent (or, again, alluring enough for an educated young man like Xavier, who purports to love her mind as well as her looks). She came off to me as childlike and not inspiring Helen of Troy passion, devotion, or even Xavier's spare time.
There's a "we" (the neighborhood) voice that shares gossipy neighbors' thoughts, some omniscient revelations, and that hints extensively at trouble to come with Brad (the repeated foreshadowing about this element made me feel as though Fowler didn't think the reader was intelligent enough to catch on without heavy-handed hints).
Most frustrating of all for me was that Brad was such a hateful bad guy with immature, revolting, entitled, horribly disturbing thoughts, tendencies, and speech. He was ultimately too easy to detest, without any depth or gray areas, so that he seemed a caricature of a villain.
Fowler touches on some big, intriguing issues about guilt and innocence and race--not to mention how crises bring out the true colors of those involved--but I felt as though she didn't ultimately dig as deeply into them as I wanted her to.
NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What did you think?
I think the issues Fowler raises are fascinating and disturbing and definitely worth exploring.
What did you think of how Fowler presented them?