My last book of 2020 was A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler. A domestic drama told in part through a Greek chorus of old trees in the suburban neighborhood where the book takes place, it’s one of those books that instills dread from page 1. You know it’s not going to end well, but you’re just not sure how you’re going to get there.
Why I picked it up: My final remaining category for the 2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge was Pick A Book, Any Book, so I sent my son into my room to pick a book from my bookshelves. He came back with A Good Neighborhood.
Two families live side by side on an idyllic suburban North Carolina street. Valerie, a middle aged Black woman, and her son Xavier, a senior in high school with a promising future in music ahead of him, have lived for decades in a modest house with a gorgeous old oak tree in the backyard. When nouveau riche white businessman Brad and his wife Julia build a modern mansion with a pool in the lot next door, the relationship between the neighbors starts out friendly but quickly sours when the health of Valerie’s tree is threatened by Brad’s construction, and Xavier gets romantically involved with Brad’s stepdaughter Juniper.
Valerie’s anger at Brad grows in lockstep with Brad’s creepy possessiveness of Juniper and the development of the teenagers’ relationship. Not a good trajectory. Along the way, Fowler explores racism, power dynamics, environmental degradation and sexual abuse. As the book goes on, Fowler ratchets up the tension and intensity among these characters, increasing the reader’s sense of dread and foreboding and giving little hope of a peaceful resolution.
A Good Neighborhood is a powerful and insightful book, but it’s not a fun read. The Greek chorus lets you know early on that things will get complicated, and they do. Though A Good Neighborhood is a fast read, it stays with you long after you close the book.
A Good Neighborhood was the 66th – and final – book of 2020. It satisfied the Pick A Book, Any Book category of the 2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.