Editorial note: I received a copy of Good Neighbors in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan is a dark examination of suburbia.
Whew, this one took some really twisty and disturbing turns. The novel is positioned as a modern-day Crucible with a dash of Celeste Ng and I can see where they make both of those comparisons. It’s a little hard to define the genre—yes, there’s a mystery but you have a pretty good idea of where it’s going; you just don’t know how or why. I wouldn’t exactly call it literary fiction but there is quite a bit of introspection among the characters. And despite the title of Good Neighbors, these are in fact, pretty horrible ones. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to really like any of these characters when it’s all said and done.
There’s a lot to unravel with this one, which is why it’s a good book club pick.
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 menace skulks beneath the surface of this exclusive enclave, making its residents prone to outrage. When the Wilde family moves in, they trigger their neighbors’ worst fears. Dad Arlo’s a gruff has-been rock star with track marks. Mom Gertie’s got a thick Brooklyn accent, with high heels and tube tops to match. Their weird kids cuss like sailors. They don’t fit with the way Maple Street sees itself.
Though Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroeder—a lonely college professor repressing a dark past—welcomed Gertie and her family at first, relations went south during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, when the new best friends shared too much, too soon. By the time the story opens, the Wildes are outcasts.
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. 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.
Maple Street is just like any other upper middle class neighborhood. Perfect lawns, residents who travel and want their kids in the right schools, etc. But the Wilde family doesn’t fit in—despite all their efforts, they’ll always be outsiders. Rhea does welcome Gertie and the family at first, however, over too many glasses of wine, Rhea lets her nice veneer down and Gertie finds out there’s a much darker side to her.
Everything will comes to head when a sink hole appears. Shelly falls in, seemingly trying to get away from someone, and Rhea starts a rumor that will have devastating impacts.
And the rest of the neighbors? They act like sheep—they never question the rumor and instead continue to push even more lies. I felt the neighbors response was sadly pretty realistic. Not many people know how to take stand and disagree with a mob. Even with faced with the truth, they still turn a blind eye. Why? Because it’s the easy road.
Good Neighbors is set in the future, 2027, and it seems climate change is having a huge impact—hence, the sink holes popping out of nowhere. The story is also told through magazine stories 15 years after the events. I really liked how the author included the mix of the two narratives. The stories give you enough information to know some really bad events happen but not too much that it’s spoiled.
We read the perspectives of many characters but primarily Rhea and Gertie. Both have extremely dark pasts that they can’t quite shake. But there’s where the similarities end.
I will say sometimes the character motivation was a bit thin and I do think the story went into twist after twist without making much sense at times. I also got tired of characters wishing other ones would die—I feel like every chapter someone would say that. Pretty dark stuff all around.
So it’s a little clunky in parts. And it gets very disturbing. But I do think there is plenty to discuss with this one. Just be aware that this is a heavy read. Check out my book club questions here.