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Good Neighbors: A Novel

1 rating: 3.0
1 review about Good Neighbors: A Novel

A mediocre yet unsettling fictional retelling of the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder.

  • May 25, 2013
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After having read A.M. Rosenthal's Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case and of how apathy played such a large part in her brutal murder, I was intrigued how a case of this horrific nature could conceivably be adapted into a novel and be adapted successfully without diminishing the impact of what truly happened to Kitty Genovese while also still maintaining respect for her memory and her family's suffering. I thought a book of this sort would only open up old scars and add salt to the lacerations.

In terms of ethics and the message the novel tried to convey, Good Neighbors was pitch-perfect, a stellar work which was unfortunately brought down due to the convoluted writing style. It was a good book, but it was not a great book, primarily because the dialog had a tendency to overlap itself and become somewhat muddled. It can get confusing for a reader to know which character was making what statement. There was an ambiguity with the voice and counter-voice of some of the characters. At a couple of points, I couldn't figure out what comments or dialog could be attributed to which character. And that seemed to be a consistent issue with me, probably the only one. I have also heard that Good Neighbors was declared to be pornographic and excessively violent. I disagree with that criticism, essentially because Ryan David Jahn was doing a fictionalized retelling of the Kitty Genovese murder, and her murder was, in all fairness to Jahn, horrific and sexually violent. He was merely writing about the brutality as it correctly was.

Despite my issue with the flow of voices, Good Neighbors had some good elements to it, too, that kept me reading right along, despite its inherent flaws. Two of those qualities were the sheer storytelling and the interconnectedness of all the characters, all the so-called witnesses. Jahn is able to paint a portrait with words on how apathy possibly could have come about in the lives of the witnesses. Each witness in the novel is dealing with his or her own issue or are placed in a circumstance of which that cannot get themselves out of. The witnesses have such a Zen-like focus on what they're going through, that even though they know their neighbor-as yet to be identified-her name is Kat in the novel, is being attacked, they simply do nothing. An attitude of, It will take care of itself, whatever it is, is quite pervasive and credible. The graphic conveyance of violence and sexual violence, I think, is a needed tool, especially in the retelling of the Kitty Genovese murder, but it should be for any novel in which the core aim is to jar a reader to a certain level of cognition and out of stagnancy. Another novel that does this and does it quite convincingly is the A.M. Homes novel, The End of Alice, a work of such sickening power that it could propel anyone to want to become an officer of the law or a caring and law-abiding citizen. Admittedly, Jahn falls a little short in this area when it is compared to The End of Alice, but not by much. Yet, it is no where near the disgust level that Homes achieved in her novel.

Good Neighbors was a good novel, but it was not a great novel. It is clearly apparent that this was a first time author, but again, I will not diminish Jahn's literary prowess. I think he will be one of those authors who will grow and improve with each successive work. And while I was not overly ebullient over this particular work, it was awarded the Crime Writers Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award. If you're into awards and things like that, it does at least indicate a hidden literary gem in Jahn as an author, a writer whose telltale talent is in his novice ability in featuring the urine saturated and violent underbelly of metro
A mediocre yet unsettling fictional retelling of the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder.

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