The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn is a character driven psychological work of fiction in which almost every character mentioned is either broken already or twisted en route to broken. The reader may finish the book hoping to never meet such a weird group in real life. It will probably be difficult for a reader to not have sympathy for almost all characters, even the deeply multi-flawed Harlow. Ahlborn has kept language very restrained to describe relationships that would make Freud sit up and take notice. Harlow’s methods of unfriending her “boys” can come across as gruesome but the descriptive language is inoffensive.
I read and listened to this 233-page book on Kindle and Audible. It is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers in both print and listening form. For those who love psychological suspense mixed with a bit of terror, it is good value at the USD 2.99 purchase price.
Andrew (Drew) walks out of his job in a grocery after five years, stops by home to pack a few things, and runs away from home. He has been unwillingly supporting his mother for many years after his father left one day never to be heard from again. Drew is scarred by the desertion but doesn’t feel responsible for it. He had seen the steadily increasing coldness of his parent’s relationship but had not expected abandonment. Drew watches his mother sink into depression, alcoholism, and a form of agoraphobia. The son is doing all routine daily tasks: paying bills, cooking, cleaning, and shopping for food. All the while he is trying to act “normal” in his high school life that includes a girlfriend. After high school, girlfriend Emily goes away to school. But there is no going away for Drew, mom needs him. Until finally, Drew decides to take charge, move out of his mom’s house and into a house with a long-time friend from his younger days, Mickey.
Mickey lives in a rented house and has agreed to let Drew move in for free until he gets back to work. When Drew arrives he finds that Mickey lives in horrible squalor. Dirt is everywhere, trash is everywhere, and Mickey is not interested in cleaning up. He sits on a couch in the living room and plays video games. Mickey acts sullen with Drew, not at all friendly as when they were young. Mickey seems to have secrets and is unwilling to answer any questions about his job, the neighborhood, or even some basic things about the house. Why is the door to the third bedroom locked? Why won’t Mickey provide drew the password to unlock the internet? What does Mickey do for a living? He leaves the house every day and returns every night. Where does he go? Drew receives no answers.
Drew is distracted by and interested in one of his neighbors. The beautiful Harlow even bakes cookies and brings them to Drew’s new residence as a welcoming gift. She is beautiful, skilled at cooking, and dresses in a style that is more suitable to going out than doing home routine chores. She reminds him of what he wishes his mother could be again. While Drew is thinking of his mother Harlow is thinking of a much more intimate relationship. She has had relationships with younger guys (boys?) before. Red, her husband, even knew about them and supported her in her interests. Red knew none of the boys would stay long. None ever had. Red saw something different about Drew. Resigned to what he knew was probably going to happen, he decided that Drew might be special. Red would have to be careful.
Mickey was appalled at Drew’s developing interest in Harlow. He tried to warn Drew. He had first-hand knowledge of what had happened to Harlow’s other toys.
Ahlborn takes the reader on a journey of discovery about the life of each character. Drew had a bad childhood that involved alcoholism. Mickey had problems with drugs. Drew had mommy issues and Harlow had daddy issues. Red was a guy who needed to prove something. Drew’s girlfriend, Emily had moved on. Drew’s mom couldn’t deal with life at all. Harlow had a son. Where was he now? He had loved his mom but was terrified of her.
This is an interesting character study. Most of the characters develop linearly. If they are bad, they only get worse. This is the same with characters who have a bit of good in them, they get better. The reader will not be confused about the direction each character is going but will be surprised about how far they can go. There are several surprises along the way that make this an interesting and fast read. Although I both read and listened to the book, I don’t recommend the method here. The print ebook is better. The reader of the Audible book has a noticeable pronunciation variant on any word ending with “d.” In later chapters of the book, I found myself anticipating upcoming vocabulary items; I almost started counting them. I found this annoying.
But I found the print ebook fascinating.