– Harlow Ward
Actually, it’s a thought that has crossed the mind of Andrew Morrison more than a few times over the previous 13 years, ever since his father walked out on him and his mother. After his father left, Andrew’s mom went into a downward spiral of alcoholism and agoraphobia, eventually reaching the point where she wouldn’t even leave the house to walk to the mailbox.
At first sympathetic, Andrew finally tires of sacrificing his life for someone who shows neither appreciation nor any desire to get better. So, now twenty-three, Andrew gets back in touch with a childhood friend, Mickey, via Facebook and makes arrangements to move in with him across town. Unfortunately, it looks like Andrew may well have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
At first elated to see the picturesque houses in Mickey’s neighborhood, Andrew’s elation turns to shock and embarrassment when he discovers Mickey’s house is a run-down blight on the otherwise perfect Magnolia Lane. Mickey isn’t exactly how Andrew remembers him either. Once gregarious and outgoing, Mickey is now withdrawn and borderline uncommunicative—almost like he doesn’t even want Andrew there, despite the invitation. The neighbors, however…
Andrew quickly falls in love with the neighbors, Harlow and Red, whose picture-perfect house is second only to their 1950s, Ward and June Cleaver squared away personalities. When he’s invited to do some work around their house, Andrew jumps at the chance to not only make some money, but to get closer to his vision of what he always wanted growing up but never had: the perfect family. The more he gets to know them, however, the more Andrew gets the feeling everything is not quite as it seems.
The Neighbors, the second book from author Ania Ahlborn, has tremendous potential, and a premise that most people would find extremely disturbing—the idea your perfect neighbors not only aren’t, but are something far worse than you could possibly have imagined. Unfortunately, the book never quite hit the mark for me. The setup took a bit too long to put into place, and even once events started to pick up there were flashbacks to Andrew’s childhood which, while necessary to help explain his psyche, were somewhat ill-timed in that they took me out of the moment and away from any tension which had been building.
It also felt as though Ahlborn tried a little too hard to sell how perfect Harlow and Red appeared to the outside world when, in fact, many of the things she used to convey their “perfect” neighbor status—Red mowing the yard in business casual while Harlow tends her roses decked out in a dress and heels, for example—would more likely raise red flags to people as being extremely odd. Maybe there was some black humor going on I just didn’t “get,” but it was all a bit over-the-top and forced for my taste.
You may not be as picky as I am when it comes to pacing issues, and may find the characters subtle enough for your liking, so if the premise sounds good to you it’s certainly worth pursuing (especially with an e-book version available for only $4). I don’t regret having read the book, I just thought it had the potential to be much better given the premise, and so came away somewhat disappointed. Your milage may vary.
The Neighbors is available from Thomas & Mercer (ISBN: 978-1612184456).