In her latest novel, Therese Anne Fowler departs from the style of her previous novels, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of The Vanderbilts, and writes a family drama set in a small town in Virginia. Narrated by the other, unnamed residents of the neighborhood of Oak Knoll, A Good Neighborhood explores race and gender in the South through two families: the Whitmans and the Alston-Holts. When teenaged Juniper Whitman and Xavier Alston-Holt start dating against their parents’ wishes, both are drawn into Juniper’s stepfather Brad’s ambition and selfishness—and none of their lives will be the same after.
Xavier and Juniper meet when the Whitmans move into the house next door to Xavier and his mother Valerie. The two families clash from the start—in his focus on himself and his house as a display of his wealth, Brad cuts down a tree in the yard, and Valerie sues him for it. Brad’s desire to get back at Valerie eclipses everything else, and when events go awry, Brad jumps at an opportunity to get revenge on Valerie in an extremely misguided and problematic set of circumstances.
Fowler’s narrative structure in this novel, first-person plural, allows readers to understand the impact of the events on the entire community, and how all of these interconnected lives are also interconnected. None of these people live in a vacuum, and Fowler emphasizes that idea through this style of narration. Fowler moves through time, her temporal shifts allowing for a more deliberate unpacking of the series of events that bring all her characters to this one moment and set of circumstances, emphasizing how all of their pasts impact their present—and the theme of time at the end of the novel as well, in the epilogue.
Drawing on history and the idea of memory, Fowler’s novel is a haunting exploration of the events that make us who we are and how they impact identity. Through the Whitmans and Alston-Holts, Fowler critiques racism and misogyny in the South, and examines the impact both have on people’s lives.
A Good Neighborhood is one of our Fall/Winter 2019-2020 reads. View the entire list here.