“At thirty-four, Nick Walsh is a broken, deeply cynical man. Since the violent deaths of his parents thirteen years earlier, he has been living alone in his childhood home in the suburban Midwest, drinking, drugging, and debauching himself into oblivion. A measure of solace is provided by his newly found relationship with Monica, a mysterious woman who seems to harbor as many secrets as he does.
Obsessed with understanding the circumstances surrounding his parents’ deaths and deranged by his relentless sorrow, Nick begins a campaign of spying on his neighbors via hidden cameras and microphones he has covertly installed in their houses. As he observes with amusement and disbelief all the strange, sad, and terrifying things that his neighbors do to themselves and to one another, and as he, in turn, learns that he is being stalked, he begins to slowly unravel the shocking truth about how and why his parents died.”
Thoughts: Grief does funny things to people. For Nick Walsh in Norah Vincent’s debut fictional novel Thy Neighbor, grief is the excuse he uses in order to explain his excessive drinking and drug use. For the past thirteen years, Nick drinks himself into a memory-blanking stupor in order to ease his pain and confusion at the sudden and violent murder/suicide of his parents. When he is not doing that, or sleeping off the effects of the alcohol, he is busy spying on his neighbors, taking a perverse glee at their foibles and secrets. At first, Nick is the type of character to offend and shock his audience as much as possible, as much to protect himself as it is to protect others. He is crass and disgusting, in his habits, language, and actions. However, there is an tender vulnerability just beneath the surface that plucks at a reader’s heartstrings and prevents one from dropping the book like a hot potato. Once the mysterious Monica enters his life, with seemingly no strings attached, no earthly ties, and no expectations of anyone, he begins to question his behavior and that of his neighbors. Suddenly, his self-loathing is almost as great as his desire to drink himself into an oblivion every night, and as he struggles to find meaning in his life, a reader’s sympathy profoundly grows.
Thy Neighbor is not a novel to rush through to the end. There is so much hate, confusion, debauchery, and perverse attitudes that it takes a strong stomach to make it through certain scenes, let alone the entire book. Yet, Nick’s struggle to find redemption, or to redeem others, becomes absolutely mesmerizing upon careful reading. It is a bit like pulling off a Band-Aid, which initially hurts, has a lingering sting, but eventually all residual pain dissipates. No matter how sickening the story becomes, Nick’s search for answers, and his growing inability to completely numb his senses, is gut-wrenchingly painful to read. His discoveries keep the sting lingering, but sooner or later, the reader feels relief. In a way, the reader is mirroring Nick’s own emotional roller coaster, without the fifth of whiskey or the resulting hangover.
Thy Neighbor is a provocative redemption story, throughout which Nick is desperately trying to seek the closure he does not even know he wants. His spying is as much a symptom as it is a solution to his pain. The discovery that he is not the only unsavory, hypocritical person on the block simultaneously adds fuel to his rage and confusion while providing a balm to assuage his loneliness. Unfortunately, while the first half of the novel is surprising, Thy Neighbor’s ultimate conclusion is anti-climactic and predictable. However, a reader’s enjoyment is not driven by the not-so-surprising end, but Nick’s journey along the way. It is so raw and honest, it is all but hypnotic. While not the most appropriate summer reading choice, a reader will be haunted by Nick’s story long after the last page is turned.