by Norah Vincent
Published by Viking Adult
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5 cupcakes
Try to sum up this book. Go ahead and just try.
A guy whose parents died in a murder-suicide sits in his house, spying on his neighbors, and comes to discover that he is being watched? That’s certainly part of it. A man learns to come to terms with his dark past and discover that the gene pool does not have to dictate who he becomes? Sort of. Sometimes everyone in a family can love the same person? Yes, in a way, but …
Let’s start with the basics. Nick Walsh festers, whether alone in his home, studying his neighbors via spy cameras he had installed in their homes, or in the local bar, where he drinks too much. Nick drinks too much at home as well, but can you blame him? There was the murder-suicide of his parents, after all. His one friend is a loathsome creature, and his few human relationships are a study in dysfunction. The one constant he has are those monitors trained on his neighbors. We know Nick needs to be rousted from his miasmatic existence, even if he seems a bit resigned to it.
There is a woman in his life, the elusive Monica, who comes and goes as she pleases. I would not call theirs a romance, but it isn’t merely friendship or adversarial, either. For the most part, Nick is blithely uncurious about Monica; when he finally decides he wants to know her better, he is unprepared for what she is willing to divulge to him.
As Nick observes about himself:
I have only an idea of a person, even the person that I call myself. That’s all. And when I love another person, or think I do, it is only the idea of that person that I love, and it is only the idea of me that is doing the loving.
… Show me where love is, where it exists, and I will show you a cerebral circuit board of signals and crossed wires. Saying you are in love with a person is like saying you are in love with a radio, or a TV, the box itself, not the broadcast coming from it, which is always hopelessly muddled anyway with the broadcast that is coming form yourself.
Nick unwittingly sets forth his inner turmoil, although he clearly is not aware that he has such self-knowledge. Monica pushes and pushes him to give up that “broadcast” that flits within him, but he does not. In Nick’s case, it is not an issue of won’t, but an issue of can’t. He is not ready to face his parents’ death and the ramifications of it, nor is he ready to admit his own failings, separate from dear old Mom and Dad.
This is not an easy or simple book to read. It is very complex, both in Nick’s creation and portrayal, and in its supporting characters. When Nick befriends an elderly neighbor across the street, it is clear that he has found someone more complex than himself. Then there is the young girl he allows into his life. She breaches a sort of lingering childhood innocence in him; Nick responds by alternately pushing and pulling her away from and into his life.
There is a considerable amount of conversation, both internal and those Nick shares with us. A lot of contemplation goes on. For the most part, Nick’s observations are interesting and thought provoking. Some are just annoying and ridiculous.
Overall, Thy Neighbor is pretty good. It is not a book I care to read again, only because when I finished it, it left a ponderous sensation. Yet it did make me think, and some of Norah Vincent’s lines are meant to be debated.