Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon, reviewed by Michael Joll

384 pages. Published by MIRA BOOKS, a division of HarperCollins. Available in bookstores and at the usual on-line outlets, including Indigo here.

“Lies, damn lies, and…” Mark Twain didn’t have the benefit of Hannah Mary McKinnon’s second novel, The Neighbors, to finish one of his more famous quotes.

Lying comes second nature to the main characters. They lie to each other and to themselves about their past lives and their present situations. Each has a reason to hide the truth from their partner, and confronting their innermost feelings – about themselves and for each other – is too dangerous an option.

The author skillfully peels back the layers of the onion to reveal another truth, each layer more complex, more delicious and more salacious than the last. The cast of characters dig themselves ever deeper into deep, dark, dank holes, always ignoring the maxim, “The truth shall set you free,” in their quest to discover solutions to their relationship problems. McKinnon takes you places you don’t want to go to and makes you squirm. Then she twists your arm and rubs your nose in it. Don’t ever, ever, think of having an extra-marital affair. Unless…

In turn quirky, funny, dark and devious we see new neighbors in suburban south London, England over a period of several months. Liam and Nancy, with their teenage son have moved in next door to Nate and Abby and their teenage daughter. Liam and Abby were once lovers, twenty years ago, something which neither has ever disclosed to his or her partner, or ever relinquished.

Sparks fly. Tensions build. Liam and Abby are drawn to each other again. Scheming Nancy tries to lure Nate, the nicest guy anyone will ever meet, into her web – or at least her bed. And the teens, Sarah and Zac? That would be telling. (Hint: Sarah keeps a diary).

And nobody knows until…

The Neighbors is a real page turner. The author guides the reader through the past lives of
the four principle characters and weaves them seamlessly into the present in short, episodic chapters, ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ linking past with present. Each character has a distinct voice, both in their speech patterns and choice of words, and the way in which each ‘Writes’ his or her own episode.

A book for the plane, the beach, your favourite window seat on a drizzly day or last thing at night – no, scratch that last one, unless you want to stay up all night, reading.

Note: Hannah will be the guest speaker at the How to Build Your Story workshop Saturday, Oct 20, in Waterloo. Details here.

Michael Joll is the author of Perfect Execution and Other Stories and contributed four stories to the recently published collection Our Plan to Save the World. Michael has also published numerous short stories on CommuterLit and Quick Brown Fox. He’s written four radio dramas (three broadcast), and four yet-to-be-published novels. (He's actively seeking an agent for one of these.) And he's president of the Brampton Writers' Guild. Michael lives in Brampton, Ontario, with his wife of many, many years. When not writing he tries to grow roses.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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