My rating: ★★★☆☆
At 4:00 A.M. on March 13, 1964, a young woman returning home from her shift at a local bar is attacked in the courtyard of her Queens apartment building. Her neighbors hear her cries; no one calls for help.
Unfolding over the course of two hours, Good Neighbors is the story of the woman’s last night. It is also the story of her neighbors, the bystanders who kept to themselves: the anxious Vietnam draftee; the former soldier planning suicide; the woman who thinks she’s killed a child and her husband, who will risk everything for her. Revealing a fascinating cross-section of American society in expertly interlocking plotlines,Good Neighbors calls to mind the Oscar-winning movie Crash, and its suspense and profound sense of urban menace rank it with Hitchcock’s Rear Window and the gritty crime novels of Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, and James Ellroy.
I was originally going to give this a 2.5 but I bumped it up to 3. The way the characters intertwined in the end was satisfying enough. The book as a whole, however, was just a disappointment to me.
This book, as you may or may not know, is inspired by the real life murder that happened long ago of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. Kitty Genovese was stabbed and (trigger warning) raped to death. About 34 neighbors in the apartment complex saw the attack but did not report to the police nor stepped in to help the young woman. This case has baffled many ever since—why didn’t anybody step in? Why did they all just watch?—and thus the “bystander effect” was developed not long after.
I had high expectations for this book and I definitely think it had a lot of potential. The author was also very brave and therefore worthy of a little applause for tackling a real life incident and putting his own fictional twist to perhaps better understand the bystander effect. The execution, though, unfortunately fell flat for me.
There were too many characters and the development of each took too long in my opinion. I was a little halfway through the book already and the characters—along with the plot itself!—were still very much undeveloped. This book was a quick read, as I had expected. But I think it would have been better had it been a little longer and maybe with less characters to focus on (some of the characters could have been removed and it would not have made any difference to the book). I did not feel attached or feel connected to any of the main characters at all. I almost felt as though the author presented the characters in such a way that you could tell he was trying too hard to get the reader to like them or feel sorry for them. But alas, it was just very difficult to care for them! There were just too many of them and it got confusing more often times than not. It was tough to follow and seemed redundant to me.
I also thought there was too much use of repetition. I understand it was probably for added effect, but it was overdone in my opinion (for example, the unnecessary repetition of “monster with gentle eyes.” Repetition can be quite effective when it’s done right. It doesn’t have to happen every other line. That’s when it becomes redundant and makes it difficult for me to keep reading.) I thought perhaps once I’ve turned the last page of this book, I can set it down with a newfound knowledge or even just a better understanding of the murder of Kitty Genovese and why the neighbors very well chose to be bystanders. That was not the case.
Overall, the book was not terrible. I just think I could have gone my whole life without reading this and I’d still be okay.