Earl and Enid Keese lived with college daughter Elaine at the end of a quiet street in a rural town. A new couple had moved into the house occupied by the Walkers, their previous neighbors. The new couple had a wolfhound named Baby.
Earl and Enid had just finished discussing when to invite the new neighbors over when there was a knock on the front door.
As Earl opened the door, Ramona crashed in, requested a dinner and grilled Earl on the faces in the family photographs. Before Earl could recover from the abrasiveness of his new neighbor, Ramona’s male companion, Harry, a giant with shovels for hands, roamed in.
‘What’s on the menu?’ he demanded. There was one problem; no food in the house.
Unable to wriggle out of Harry’s demand, Earl parted with $32 and his car, which his new neighbor promised to use to buy dinner for all four. Meanwhile, Ramona had slunk upstairs without being invited, and was later found lying naked in Earl’s master bedroom.
Once in possession of Earl’s car and money, Harry detoured to his new house and made a bowl of spaghetti. Earl learned about this deception by peeking through the window.
When Earl tried to take custody of Harry’s demobilized car as a reprisal, it ended badly. The neighbor’s car rolled into a swamped ditch, requiring a car winch.
Thus a seed of mistrust quickly grows between Earl and Harry.
At the best of times, Earl is unable to distinguish between his imagination and reality. As his family mischaracterizes him, as Ramona plays a badger game on him, and Harry pummels him, Earl becomes more whimsical, distrustful and combative. A sense of hospitality and a fear of losing control as the head of the family torment him.
Offense and revenge are plentiful in the book. On one occasion, Harry stomps Earl’s head down in the swamp and on another occasion Earl gives Harry a black eye.
As things gradually become more stable and predictable between the families, Harry makes a sudden decision; he no longer finds the neighborhood attractive and needs to move. Earl tries but fails to persuade him to stay. A U-Haul is waiting. Then there is a house fire.
Who burned the house? Did Harry set the fire, or did Earl do it? Could it be one of the Greavys, owners of the automobile garage who helped winch up Harry’s ditched car, who gave Earl a punch in the pit of his stomach because he hated him?
Now, Harry has more reasons to go, and he pleads with Earl to follow him to a new place and a new life.
Like in the real world, even a brutal savage such as Harry has likable elements to his personality. One of Harry’s many enviable traits that appeal to Earl is how unperturbed he is after his house burns to the ground.
Earl weighs up the option of leaving his family and going off with Harry. He has lost everything. His daughter’s affection has shifted to Ramona, and his wife’s affection has switched to Baby the wolfhound.
In this book, Thomas Berger shows how easily our emotions can change from love to hatred, from loyalty to treachery, and from self-control to lust.
What fascinates me about Neighbors is how the author can make a two hundred and seventy-five page book cover a mere twenty-four hours. In one sense, it shows how action-packed the book is, but on the other hand it demonstrates how detailed a writer the author is.
Other Thomas Berger’s books I read include: Little Big Man, The Feud, Being Invincible, Who Is Teddy Villanova?, Killing Time, Meeting Evil, and Sneaky People. Neighbors is one of my favorites. Though the characters in the book are fictitious, what they have to endure happens in real life. It is the only novel I read twice.
By Anselm Anyoha