My enormous thanks to Sarah Mather at Titan for sending me a copy of Good Neighbours by Sarah Langan in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.
Published by Titan on 13th July 2021, Good Neighbours is available for purchase through these links.
A sudden tragedy pits neighbour against neighbour and puts 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 when the Wilde family moves in, they trigger their neighbours’ worst fears. Arlo and Gertie and their weird kids don’t fit with the way Maple Street sees itself. As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and neighbourhood Queen Bee Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes. Suddenly, it is one mother’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.
A riveting and ruthless portrayal of suburbia, Good Neighbours excavates the perils and betrayals of motherhood and friendships and the dangerous clash between social hierarchy, childhood trauma, and fear.
My Review of Good Neighbours
The Wildes have moved to Maple Street
My goodness I found Good Neighbours a horrifyingly compelling read. Initially I was unsure if I’d enjoy the book but it wasn’t long before I was completely ensnared because Sarah Langan presents such a razor sharp insight into suburban American life that I simply couldn’t tear myself away. Good Neighbours lays bare the delusional, corrupt underbelly of provincial society with such clarity that I almost feel tainted by the read.
From the very first page there is a pervasive menace that lurks just like the sink hole that precipitates so many events. The plot is presented so cleverly with futuristic interviews, reports and newspaper articles, interspersed between events taking place in a little over a month so that the reader can see just how false witness can reverberate down the years with terrifying results. Add in the oppressive heat, the petty everyday lives of people living in Maple Street and the ease with which rumour can spread and Good Neighbours becomes an almost sentient, malignant being in its own right rather than simply a narrative.
The characters are a triumph. Whilst obvious empathy lies with Arlo and Gertie (if indeed it can be obvious with all the accusations and rumour in the story), it is Rhea who is one of the most fascinating literary characters I’ve encountered. She’s complex, malevolent, dangerous and terrifying so that I found myself thankful I’d never encountered her in real life, but at the same time I found the reasons why she is as she is, realistic and deserving of sympathy. The children too are completely authentic so that Maple Street’s Good Neighbours are a microcosm of American society at its very best and very worst.
Whilst the plot races along and the characters are completely fascinating, the themes underpinning Good Neighbours give it astounding depth and credibility too. Social control, mass hysteria and victimisation, family and societal relationships, authority at many levels, abuse in several forms – whether that be through drugs and alcohol or inappropriate relationships and violence – hope and despair, madness and evil, compassion and cruelty swirl through Good Neighbours until the reader is moved as well as entertained, horrified and uplifted and thankful for their own life well away from Maple Street.
I think Good Neighbours is a triumph because I’d defy any reader not to have a strong opinion about it. Some might not wish to deal with Sarah Langan’s laying bare of the human potential for evil and goodness, but I round it a riveting portrayal of toxic society. I loved it.
About Sarah Langan
Sarah Langan grew up on Long Island, in a town called Garden City, but not on a crescent bordering a park. She got her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and also received her Master’s in Environmental Health Science/Toxicology from New York University. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughters.
She’s received three Bram-Stoker awards, and her work has often been included in best-of-the year lists and anthologies. She’s a founding board member of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and works in both film and prose.