Sunday 29 April 2012

Edith-Jane Bahr - A Nice Neighborhood (1973)

"I can't imagine any of this," I said out loud. "It's like a Hitchcock movie."

If Margaret Butler, the narrator of A Nice Neighborhood, is in a Hitchcock film, it would be Rear Window. Sitting in the bay window of her kitchen while giving her six week old daughter a 2 a.m. bottle, Margaret notices a light on in the family room of their backyard neighbors' house. Margaret's first thought is that someone must be sick and so is surprised to see Marilyn Crane, clad in something "loose and see-throughy", furtively let a man out the back door. Her initial surprise at the audacity of Marilyn letting a man in and out of her house while her husband is sleeping upstairs turns into amusement as she witnesses several more of these clandestine meetings, reasoning, as she never hears a car starting up, that Marilyn is carrying on an affair with a local man (who, of course, is only seen in shadow and silhouette). Margaret's amusement is short-lived however; John Crane wakes up one morning to discover his wife in the family room, dead from a stab wound in the back. The police's initial assumption that Marilyn surprised a prowler is discarded after Margaret's account of the night visitor and their focus turns to a disgruntled lover or a vindictive spouse. With the peaceful facade of the neighborhood being stripped away by revelations of affairs, lies and other problems, Margaret becomes more and more uneasy that one of her "nice" neighbors is possibly a killer and that, after a second murder, she herself might be the next victim.

A Nice Neighborhood should be a novel with an atmosphere of suffocating and ever-growing paranoia, but apart from a short scene in which Margaret fears that the killer is hiding inside her house, the narrative isn't very suspenseful. Part of the problem lies with the cast of suspects. While they are supposed to be benign, at least on the surface, I never had the impression that there was an added layer to their characters, that one of them really posed a threat a Margaret and could strike out at any moment. And this benignity extended to the final reveal, a confrontation which was flat (and somewhat abrupt with an overly garrulous killer).

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