“The Good Neighbor, ” the second book by “The Glass Wives” author Amy Sue Nathan, is largely about a lie and its repercussions. Recently divorced high-school counselor and single mother Izzy Lane one day invents a fake boyfriend named “Mac” to write about on her blog and save face in front of her ex-husband. Her best friend Jade, who owns a small but growing blogging platform, decides to pick up Izzy’s blog so she can tell steamy stories about her new, supposedly successful relationship and give dating advice to singles over forty. Izzy’s lies continue to snowball, and the only people who know the truth are her gay brother Ethan and her elderly neighbor Mrs. Feldman, both of whom demand she come clean. Izzy proceeds to drag her feet.
Like many stories about lies, “The Good Neighbor” swims in cringe. Izzy frequently, almost constantly, makes the wrong decision. She’s the sort of protagonist you want to yell at and indeed, I found myself screaming at her as if she was a group of horror movie coeds about to split up in a spooky mansion. There are obvious solutions to her web of lies, but she refuses to even consider them until it is far too late and that’s the point. The recently divorced Izzy is so enamored with the attention her blog gives her that it’s natural she wouldn’t see the easy outs. That very need for attention causes us to root for the inevitable karmic backlash Nathan has in store for her; the isolation that feeds it allows us to retain our sympathy.
Nathan does a great job of ratcheting up the tension in her conflict and keeping readers invested in it, but aspects of “The Good Neighbor” diminish its strength. Nathan chooses not to as deeply explore the moment that led to the lie as she does the moments that perpetuate it, nor does she go out of her way to sell us on her protagonist’s blog. The ending is also a tad easy on Izzy, quickly resolving the inevitable consequences rather than letting them linger. However, these choices never prevent “The Good Neighbor” from being an entertaining read. Much like a good soap opera or Greek tragedy, it finds a sweet spot of catharsis that reminds you that whatever your flaws, at least you aren’t Izzy Lane. (Brendan Buck)
“The Good Neighbor”
By Amy Sue Nathan
Saint Martin’s Griffin, 272 pages, $15.99
November 5, Reading, Q&A, and signing at The Book Stall, 811 Elm, Winnetka, (847)446-8880, 7pm.