The Neighbor’s Secret–Author L. Alison Heller
–by Gail Bishop
“Readers are the best people. Think about it: our hobby is putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.” (Disclaimer: unless you live in Cottonwood Estates) This novel is about a group of neighborhood women who form a book club. Sounds fairly innocuous, right? But no … there is nothing innocent about any of these women who all suffer from extreme parenting competitiveness (EPC: that’s a syndrome I made up), hidden secrets (always a good addition to a mystery), a penchant for strong cocktails (this was the part about them I liked), and connections to each other that go way back, resulting in a story so full of twists and turns you don’t know what really happens until the last chapter. If you are in a book club, I highly recommend this fast-paced read.
This novel spans a year with monthly book club meetings that begin with the classic “Lolita.” Janine runs the club and she is the mom who suffers from EPC. “Janine’s daughter Katie was always achieving things … something about Janine’s presentation always caused a flash of panic within Annie: Should Hank and Laurel be composing concertos? Why haven’t they written cookbooks for charity?” Annie and her husband stretched to get into Cottonwood Estates because of the school system but it turns out she has a history with this community and especially with Lena Meeker, the wealthy recluse who tragically lost her husband to a sudden heart attack.
On the spur of the moment, Annie stops by Lena’s home and invites her to join the neighborhood book club. What follows is a friendship of sorts between a woman who was once actively social and now extremely lonely (Why does her daughter Rachel barely speak to her?) and Annie, who doesn’t really fit in with the other mothers but wants to try.
In this novel, everyone has problems and they are exacerbated by long-held secrets. Lena seems like a victim whose philandering husband caused a tragic accident, but she also has a few skeletons in her closet. Jen is trying to navigate being the mother of Abe who keeps getting kicked out of school (the last time was for stabbing a girl!) without the neighbors finding out she could be harboring a sociopath. Annie cannot figure out why her previously straight-A daughter is suddenly struggling and what exactly is Annie’s connection to the Meeker family? All of your questions will be answered by the final chapters. (Even though you will think you had it figured out all along.)
Another mystery affecting this otherwise idyllic neighborhood is the shenanigans of the local vandal who strikes in the dead of night. “The vandal cut up their Frosty the Snowman inflatable. Snipped off the carrot nose like a psycho. Their grandkids found the remnants and were traumatized.” Of course, the likely suspect is Jen’s troubled son Abe but others also behave suspiciously. For example, why has Laurel all of a sudden decided to train for a marathon only under the cover of darkness?
If you decide to read this novel for your book club, might I suggest a Lolita Lemon Drop? (fair warning though: in the novel this drink results in a few drunken book club attendees…) Combine one-ounce vodka, half-ounce Triple Sec, one-ounce lemon juice, and a quarter ounce simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a rim of sugar. Happy reading!