Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Neighbors Are Watching.
The neighbors may be watching, but there isn’t much to see, save a very pregnant biracial teenaged girl on the doorstep of a home in San Diego. The girl’s father has not only failed to contribute to her support; he has never bothered to inform his wife of eight years that he has a daughter. Whatever domestic bliss exists between Joe and Allison Montana evaporates with the first sighting of the sullen Diana, who isn’t any happier to be here than her father is to see her.
By the time everyone moves inside on Fuller Court in San Diego’s Carmel Valley, a chill has spread through the Montana household that even the wildfires whipped by blowing Santa Ana winds cannot thaw. Diana settles in to await the birth of her baby while Joe and Allison face off on his inability to communicate this vital fact from his past. Smarting from the lack of welcome at the Montanas, Diana quickly bonds with teen-aged druggie Kevin, son of in-your-face conservative parents Dick and Dorothy Werner, who are willfully oblivious to their boy’s intimate relationship with cannabis.
Joe suddenly finds it imperative to spend longer hours at the restaurant he manages as Allison embarks on a self-destructive tantrum soothed only by vodka and a zoned-out version of her own life. As Labor Day looms along with the baby’s birth, Allison takes a leave of absence from her teaching job to continue her quest for oblivion. Not to worry: other neighborhood secrets spill from behind closed doors, including the heartbreak of a lesbian couple who recently moved to Fuller Court with their young sons in tow. Sam and Gloria are devastated when both husbands join in a court proceeding to have the boys removed from their mothers’ influence. Then there’s the surgically-enhanced ex-reality TV celebrity who entertains a series of late night male guests and has her eye on Joe Montana.
Ginsberg draws inspiration from an actual event in her neighborhood a few years back, a dormant mystery with a quiet housewife hiding in plain sight, the annual nightmare of California wild fires and the destruction of the Montanas’ domestic harmony, delving into her characters’ histories in detail. Unfortunately, there is no new territory covered here, or even much depth, more a shallow tale of suburban angst with fire trucks and breaking news that is already as stale as the cold case that inspires it.
There’s just no way to ignore the lack of passion in this novel, between characters or for characters. The plot seems more like a loose patchwork of “interesting” people and trendy situations: a pregnant biracial teenager, a lesbian couple with custody problems, a wildfire and the letdown of a glut of expended emotions. No one is likable, most of the females drowning in their own sorrows and the only real male figure a stereotype of the insensitive husband. I don’t know what to say about the over-the-top behavior of Allison Montana, but that woman can hold a grudge!