GSWS Feminist Book Club - June 2023

June 23, 2023

GSWS Feminist Book Club's June Book:

Good Neighbors

Sarah Langan

Atria Books (2021)

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan was an interesting pick for our book club. You can read it as a simple thriller, but it’s a scathing critique of culture. It’s the story of one neighbourhood block in suburban America that embodies a plethora of qualities such as the meritocracy myth, the need for perfection, the importance of appearances, the neglect of the inner self, and the disavowal of public weakness. Into this precariously perfect milieu wanders the Wilde family. They buy the worst house on the block and move in with their gauche, too loud, too honest ways. With their unkempt lawn, their tattoos and their Brooklyn accents. The perfect scapegoats.

Then, a huge, seeping, fetid sinkhole opens up in the park across the street. One child is lost to the hole: missing, presumed dead. It is the spark that sets the metaphorical fire that consumes the whole, precarious block.

Without exception, we all liked this book very much. We saw the dual realities of modern society with its loneliness and isolation, together with the feeling of being constantly observed, in Langan’s metaphor of the panopticon. And what might the sinkhole represent? The decay of civility and neighbourliness, the rot at the core of an increasingly narcissistic and capitalistic society. But it also represented the core of each character: sometimes cancer, sometimes trauma, sometimes fear of the “other.” It can also represent courage in the face of the unknown. In some ways, the children are the heroes here. They are the ones who confront the sinkhole, plumb its depths and make it their own. We discussed the expectations for female perfection in professional and home life, an impossible standard to uphold. All in all, a great pick and a lively discussion!