Bad Neighbors by Katherine Beck


The Jamison household was fine by most accounts, until perky Sue Heffernan cut an uninvited portal into the hedge that once gave the houses on each side their respective privacy. Sue uses this access to trundle over to the Jamison's with cakes, casseroles, and gardening tools. The target of her attentions is David Jamison, a stay-at-home husband described as "talented and creative" (a kind way of saying that he doesn't do a damn thing to help out his bread-winning wife Anita). At first, Sue seems to alleviate the strains of the Jamison household. Anita is pleased to find the house clean when she comes home from work, with home-cooked meals on the table and her husband, fresh from an afternoon of ego stroking by Sue, confident and optimistic about his future. But David lets the eager, doughy Sue in too far. Soon she's patting David's crotch "the way she might check on the progress of a leg of lamb cooking in the oven," and is vying for Anita's children with a vengeance.

Katherine Beck's thriller presents an unsettling opinion of the traditional suburban mom. The book assumes we know there's something creepy about a woman who has time to bake cakes from scratch and hand-sew Halloween costumes--that is, she's an anachronism who must be destroyed. And how about that David, shouldn't he get a job? Of course this oft-depicted, post-feminist scenario--husband lets crazy lady mess with his picture-perfect family to the point of no return--soon comes tumbling predictably down: blood, cheap affairs, kidnapping, divorce, and so forth (not necessarily in that order). While Bad Neighbors probably won't be something that you'll reflect on much, it does offer an enjoyable poolside smugness: How could any family let some psycho barge in and destroy their lives like that? Best keep those walls and hedges high.

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