Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thy Neighbor: A Novel by Norah Vincent

At thirty-four, Nick Walsh is a broken, deeply cynical man. Since the violent deaths of his parents thirteen years earlier, he has been living alone in his childhood home in the suburban Midwest, drinking, drugging, and debauching himself into oblivion. A measure of solace is provided by his newly found relationship with Monica, a mysterious woman who seems to harbor as many secrets as he does.

Obsessed with understanding the circumstances surrounding his parents' deaths and deranged by his relentless sorrow, Nick begins a campaign of spying on his neighbors via hidden cameras and microphones he has covertly installed in their houses. As he observes with amusement and disbelief all the strange, sad, and terrifying things that his neighbors do to themselves and to one another, and as he, in turn, learns that he is being stalked, he begins to slowly unravel the shocking truth about how and why his parents died.

At once unsettling and moving, humorous and horrifying, Thy Neighbor explores the nature of grief, the potential isolation of suburban life, and who we really are when we think no one is watching. What readers and critics have admired in Norah Vincent's nonfiction is completely unleashed in this vivid and provocative novel.

This is a difficult book to review, mainly because I’m not completely sure how I feel about it yet. It’s one of those books which sinks its teeth in and makes more sense the longer it marinates in the reader.

There are some really good moments, many fascinating sentences, the kind that make you go “wow, I’ve never thought of that in that particular manner”. It is definitely a literary book, with lots of internal monologues. For a lot of the book, these are witty and make the reading very enjoyable. There were, however, a few moments when I felt that a bit of trimming would have made a better book.

I suppose the biggest issue with the book is that none of the characters are entirely likable, not even the protagonist/narrator. He is a troubled person with an aggressive mind, which could have been interesting, but he came off more pathetic than anything else. This could have very well been the author’s intention, but I couldn’t really bring myself to enjoy following this antihero around.

As I said, the book is hard to rate because it feels uneven in its qualities. On one side, it has some fabulous writing, and on the other, it has a self-indulgent narrator who doesn’t really make much of an impact on the reader. I suppose this is one you’ll have to try for yourselves and see what you think.

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