THY NEIGHBOR is the first work of fiction by journalist Norah Vincent, a stream-of conscience narrative that skirts the edges of genre novels without giving itself over wholeheartedly to, say, the mystery and thriller categories. Reading it will put one in the mind of such books as J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, William Burroughs’ NAKED LUNCH, or even Norman Mailer’s WHY ARE WE IN VIETNAM?, all for varied and not immediately obvious reasons. Vincent’s novel is disturbing, uncomfortable and unflinching; while you might not necessarily refer it to acquaintances, you certainly will thrust into the hands of those close friends and lovers who you know in your heart are at least as strange as you are.
"Vincent’s novel is disturbing, uncomfortable and unflinching... One does not walk away from reading any part of this book without being affected (I am not sure I will ever eat an egg again, just for starters) in both positive and negative ways."
What is undeniable is that THY NEIGHBOR is incredibly well-written. Vincent’s prose is full of images and references to popular culture past and present, to the extent that one feels as if they are on the receiving end of the literary equivalent of one of those riot control devices that shoots beanbags at offenders. Vincent does this without losing control of the story, told in the voice of an extremely disturbed though outwardly normal (if you don’t look too closely) 34-year-old man named Nick Walsh for whom tragedy is a constant companion. Walsh is not above wallowing in his misery, however; he lives more or less by himself in his childhood home. That situation would not seem all that unusual but for the fact that his parents died there 13 years previously as the result of a murder-suicide.
Walsh spends his time on active duty as the captain of the good ship Oblivion, drinking and drugging his way to port each day with the assistance of his friend Dave, who seems quite comfortable with being used by Walsh as a source of food, drugs and a deep pocket. There is also a woman in Walsh’s life, a haunting and mysterious individual named Monica; their relationship appears to be that of a mutual pit stop of one sort or another, though one could be forgiven for wondering occasionally if perhaps she is a product of his imagination.
Walsh’s primary interest, though, is concerned with invasive spying on his neighbors, particularly the dysfunctional Katz family. He does this in the hopes of learning something about his parents’ relationship, though his own revelations unfold throughout the book as he reflects upon certain incidents involving himself and his mother or father from his early childhood to the night of their violent deaths. It is evident almost from the opening paragraph that things aren’t going to end well; it’s just a question of how extensive the damage ultimately will be.
One does not walk away from reading any part of this book without being affected (I am not sure I will ever eat an egg again, just for starters) in both positive and negative ways. It is undeniably real, a cautionary tale with occasional darkly comic overtones about the neighbor next door or down the block about whom you occasionally wonder. After reading THY NEIGHBOR, you won’t want to know.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 17, 2012