This is one of those books that the more it sits with you, the worse you think of it. And I liked the book at first! It’s written in an engaging style, and the characters seem likable at first. It’s also not a long book, so it doesn’t feel like a burden to pick up. I got it as my April pick for Book of the Month, a particularly slim month for interesting choices, so I thought I would branch out a little from my usual tastes and try out some contemporary fiction. It looked like it was about things that interest me: rape culture/the patriarchy, environmentalism, race relations, hypocrisy and hidden secrets in idyllic settings.
But the more I read it, the more I started to feel uncomfortable and dislike the book. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, and it’s not because of the strange narrative choice, which a lot of people seem to have disliked. (It’s told from a plural first person perspective, using “we”, and it’s meant to represent the collective “neighborhood,” a personified version of it, telling the story. Other people have pointed out the similarity to a Greek Chorus, and that seems a good comparison.)
Now that I’m further away from the book, I can see what I was reacting to. It just seems so constructed specifically to “make a point,” and to manipulate the emotions of the reader, rather than letting the characters and story go and finding meaning later, which is when lit-fic or contemporary works for me. Especially in the areas of race, Fowler falls down hard. Her two Black characters are such obvious examples of Black characters being created by a white author to be as good and exceptional as possible, so that everyone can love them and feel sad when bad things happen to them. And she makes very bad, useless, pointless things happen to them. By the time I got to the ending of the book, I was ready to throw the book out of my window and hope it got run over by some sort of large vehicle.
I do not recommend this one, though I do think the author had good intentions. But good intentions do not make for good stories.