The Neighbors Are Watching
Debra Ginsberg
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Buy *The Neighbors Are Watching* by Debra Ginsberg online

The Neighbors Are Watching
Debra Ginsberg
336 pages
August 2011
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Neighbors Are Watching.

In this explosive, heat-driven melodrama, the mistakes of a misguided teenager establish once again that what goes around, comes around. Ginsberg’s novel opens as Diana Jones arrives at Fuller Court, a sunny upper-middle-class suburb just of North San Diego County. Diana has been banished by her mother to her father, Joe Montana, kicked out of her home in Las Vegas and into a neighborhood where many residents are not as accepting and easygoing as they’d have you believe.

Diana never could have predicted her mother’s quiet disgust upon hearing that her daughter is pregnant and that she refuses to have an abortion. While Diana holds the hate close, feeling its “white-hot points stab the backs of her eyes,” she lands on Joe’s doorstep holding nothing more than a shabby suitcase and a letter from her mother. Diana’s precipitous arrival sends Allison, Joe’s wife, into an unexpected tailspin. She seals herself off behind a wall of hurt, despair and drink, and Joe can only watch as his wife falls apart. He is simply unable to cope with the newly-hatched corrosive drama of his home life.

Clearly life for the inhabitants of Fuller Court is going to get complicated. As their mismatched lives swirl though the hot summer air, the anger and frustration swell, gaining strength with every histrionic note. While Joe lacks the emotional capacity to understand what Allison is going though, the Court’s newest arrivals - Sam and her partner, Gloria - watch as Joe’s bad-girl prodigal daughter shuffles though their backyard on her way to clandestine liaisons with the sullen local druggie Kevin Werner.

Kevin’s father, Dick (“a right-leaning old boy”), is appalled that Diana is shepherding the attentions of his precious son, but neither Sam nor Joe have much time for Dick‘s fortuitous warnings that Diana needs to stay away from Kevin. Sam hopes the boy won’t turn out in the same rotten mold as his intolerant, chauvinistic father and Dorothy, Dick’s self-loathing, anti-feminist wife who harbors her own deep dark secrets as well as a thick layer of protection from her husband’s heartless accusations and utter inflexibility: “this used to be a decent neighborhood, people around here had some values.”

The air on Fuller Court buzzes with electricity and crackling nerves as the Santa Ana winds - “those arid, devil winds” - threaten to blow hard across San Diego, raising red flag warnings. As fire rages, heat and anxiety accelerate and solid marriages begin to to crumble as the capacity for emotion is all but surgically removed. Joe and Allison become embroiled in an ugly situation with the Werners, while Diana, caught in the middle of all this nastiness, naturally gravitates to the hopeless Kevin. As the world conspires to make Joe feel as bitter as possible, Dorothy finds herself shrinking away to nothing, while Sam and Gloria prove incapable of rising above the judgmental nature of their ex-husbands and neighbors.

A compelling exploration of the true meaning of love, loss and the moral compromises that we all have to make, The Neighbors Are Watching is always edgy, bracing and inventive, an R-rated treatment of suburbia that combines many of the thematic conceits of a tense, drama-laden, primetime television soap opera, albeit with far more psychological complexity.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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