Had she continued straight, she might have seen the Fiat moving toward the next intersection. She might have seen the intersection's green light turn yellow. She might have heard the RPMs kick up a notch as the driver of the Fiat strained the small car's small engine further, pressing the gas pedal to the floorboard. She might have seen the yellow light turn red. She might have seen the Fiat fly into the intersection despite the red light. She might have seen a green pickup truck entering the intersection at the same time from the right.
Kat Marino was returning to her Queens apartment from her shift at a local bar at 4 AM in the morning, when she was attacked by a man, who was hiding beside a tree nearby. Kat had never met the man before and is completely taken by surprise and shock. A few of her neighbors whose apartment windows face the courtyard, where the action was unveiling, hadn't yet gone to sleep and were watching dazed, having been interrupted from whatever argument or conversation they were preoccupied with at that hour. None of them however make a move to help her. None call the police either. While Kat screams for someone to help, and every observer assumes someone else is making that 911 call, this 280-page short book gives us a brilliant insight into the lives of all the people, whose paths cross Kat's, however marginally, between 4 and 6 am.
This is one of those books I wish I had reviewed right away. I know my head was buzzing with thoughts to share with you but somehow I'm only getting to it now - a good month after reading this book. Even now, I cannot stop thinking about how brilliant this book was and how much I would love to reread it. Good Neighbors is based on a true incident whose details are very much similar to that of this book's. If you don't want to be spoiled by the details of the real crime, skip the rest of this paragraph. New Yorkers will probably be aware of this incident better. 29-year old Kitty Genovese was returning home at 4 am in 1964 when she was attacked by a man thrice, the last time fatally, over the span of a half hour. A lot of the neighbors saw some part of the attack but no one saw the whole thing. Nobody called the police believing that someone else was making that call, though a few claimed to have called. There's a term for it - bystander effect. The New York Times posted an interesting article on this tragedy a few days later. A lot of the facts about this murder are disputed, but it does appear apparent that very few people responded to her calls for help, and although one man did call the police, they didn't turn up. "I didn't want to get involved" was the predominant sentiment.
Good Neighbors is a work of fiction. Although it is based on the Kitty Genovese murder, all the characters in it are fictional. In Good Neighbors, Ryan David Jahn sets an incredible array of characters against this tragedy. On one side, we have Kat making her way home, only to be attacked by a man who then just runs away, leaving Kat shocked and immobile outside. On the other side, we get an inside look into some of the neighbors who see a part of the attack. They are each however plagued by their own problems, so much so that they only feel an odd sense of curiosity over what's happening in the courtyard, before they return to their problems. There is a 19-year old boy who has been ordered to report for the Army's Physical Examination, but he also has an ailing mother he has to look after. Another couple is playing swinger for the first time, until it goes horribly out of control for them, making them question their own relationship. Yet another man is trying to come to terms with his homosexual orientation, but is finding himself reluctant to. Another man, who knows Kat very well, had just left in his car when his wife returned home panicking after hitting a stroller. His own actions form a subplot within this book, opening the pages to more characters - a paramedic, a corrupted cop and his equally corrupted chief, and a paedophile, while they get themselves involved in a car accident just down the road and in an attempted murder.
The huge number of characters is the main asset of this book. While it would have been easy to end up with cardboard cutouts instead of solid characters, Ryan manages to carve out intricate characters, none of whom get 'boring' for the reader. The primary sensation you get is that of the role of fate or chance in life and people's beliefs that they are the center of the world and hence their problems are the most important ones in the world. I found it very interesting to read about all the problems the other characters were having, while a woman was dying outside and calling for help. The last chapter left me thinking a lot - was it worth trying to fix your problems while a woman was losing her hold on life minute by minute? When is it okay to say that "my problem is important, because it affects me and only I can fix it!" Would you be selfish for thinking that or just looking out for yourself? Would you be happier having saved a life, but in return lost everything that meant the world to you? Or would you end up feeling resentful towards life for how things turned out for you? It's fascinating how complex we humans really are. There's plenty of gray in every picture. This book could be an intriguing theater production - I'm sure the questions it raises will be quite humbling. Quite a few of the stories come to some interesting conclusions by the time the clock strikes 6 am. I did feel very curious as to how their stories led from there, because many of the lives did change drastically.
I borrowed this book from my library. If you're interested in reading about the real Kitty Genovese, this piece on TruTV is fantastic.