The prologue to Ginsberg's third novel, a series of e-mails relating to Diana Jones, a 17-year-old mom who goes missing during the destructive San Diego fires of October 2007, sets up expectations for a gritty, nail-biting thriller, but the author opts instead for a sketchy, domestic drama that focuses on how Diana's disappearance affects those she leaves behind. In July 2007, pregnant biracial Diana surprises her biological father, Joe Montana (no relation to the football player), by showing up at his house in San Diego. Joe's wife, Allison, whom Joe never told about Diana, feels betrayed because she aborted a child she wanted but Joe didn't. As Joe strives to be a good father to Diana, he slips into an affair with a sexy new neighbor, Jessalyn Martin. Meanwhile, neighbors Dick and Dorothy Werner deal with their addict son Kevin's attraction to Diana. Ginsberg (The Grift) examines her characters' lives with microscopic zeal, but Diana remains a disappointing enigma. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"Keen and ruthless observations of human foibles." –New York Times Book Review
"Keen and ruthless observations of human foibles." – New York Times Book Review
"Neighbors offers the kind of reading that'll keep you up all night…If there is any literary justice, Ginsberg soon will be a huge star. This might be your last chance to say, ‘I knew her when.’" – Dallas Morning News
"Immensely talented...Ginsberg gets all the suburban details right...the suspense and tension keep tightening and building to a shocker at the end, which shows that home may be where the heart is, but it’s also where the secrets are." —Boston Globe
"In this explosive, heat-driven melodrama, the mistakes of a misguided teenager establish once again that what goes around, comes around...edgy, bracing and inventive." —CurledUp.com
"Ginsberg's writing is undeniably compelling, attracting that part of us that draws closer and closer to a horrible car accident, fearing the horrors we may find and yet needing to sate our curiosity."—Associated Press
"The characters in Debra Ginsberg's new book have a lot of turmoil below the surface of their cul-de-sac existence." —San Diego Union Tribune
"As you might expect, nothing is as it seems. Everyone has deep, dark secrets." —North County Times
“A gripping suburban suspense novel with real people at its core. This will appeal to fans of domestic suspense (by, e.g., Mary Higgins Clark, Lisa Gardner) as well as Tom Perrotta's suburban exposés.” —Library Journal
"Teeming with secrets...dark, funny and sometimes creepy." —Kirkus Reviews
“Fans of Desperate Housewives will enjoy Ginsberg’s engaging…mix of domestic drama and psychological suspense…Everyone is a suspect here; even seemingly upstanding citizens have closets bulging with skeletons…deliciously flawed characters.” —Booklist
"An immensely interesting novel, The Neighbors Are Watching just may cause readers to look more closely out of their own windows." —BookPage
Praise for The Grift:
“[A] clever thriller.” —New York Times Book Review
“Ginsberg smoothly sketches captivatingly flawed characters.” – Entertainment Weekly
“Unusually seductive…Read it for the not-so-predictable deceptions and the ghostly elusiveness of love.” – O, The Oprah Magazine
When pregnant 17-year-old Diana shows up on her biological father's doorstep, Joe must confess to his wife that he has a daughter by an ex-girlfriend. The resulting strain on their marriage lets lonely neighbor Jessalyn finally get her hooks into Joe. Just down the street, lesbian couple Sam and Gail struggle to find comfort in each other when their ex-husbands get custody of their kids. And Neighborhood Watch captains Dorothy and Dick Werner are too concerned with appearances to see their son's dangerous drug addiction. Diana's disappearance during San Diego's wildfire evacuation is the final blow to the quiet neighborhood's facade. In the months following, the neighbors pitch in to raise Diana's abandoned four-week-old infant, as their own lives are falling apart. VERDICT Ginsberg (The Grift) has written a gripping suburban suspense novel with real people at its core. This will appeal to fans of domestic suspense (by, e.g., Mary Higgins Clark, Lisa Gardner) as well as Tom Perrotta's suburban exposés. [Ebook ISBN 978-0-307-46388-3.]—Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL
A novel from Ginsberg (The Grift, 2008, etc.) about a middle-class, seemingly genteel San Diego neighborhood teeming with secrets that unravel in the aftermath of a California wildfire.
Spreading fire forces the residents to evacuate in October 2007. Once the neighbors return home, they realize that one of them has disappeared: Diana, a teenage mother who has been living in her father's house for only a few months. Flash back to July and pregnant Diana's sudden arrival—she had been raised by her African-American mother in Las Vegas—which badly disrupts the childless marriage of her dad Joe, a restaurant manager who has avoided any contact with his daughter, and his pretty blond wife Allison. Through the summer and fall Allison, who still resents that Joe pressed her to abort when she became pregnant early in their relationship, slips into a drunken funk, while Joe slides into an affair with a sleazy neighbor. Diana hangs out with Kevin, the neighborhood druggie. Kevin's uptight parents Dick and Dorothy seem like Republican caricatures, but Dorothy is covering up more than her daily pill-popping. And her unlikely confidante is Sam, half of the lesbian couple across the street. Thrown together through their kindergarten-age sons, Sam and her younger lover Gloria left their husbands for each other, but their passionate relationship has been disintegrating since the ex-husbands sued successfully for custody of the boys. By the day of the fire, Diana has given birth to baby Zoë and rejected both Allison's pressure to put Zoë up for adoption and Kevin's marriage proposal. When the evacuation order comes, Allison leaves the house—and her marriage—assuming Joe will come home to get his daughter and granddaughter. But Sam is the one who finds Zoë alone in Diana's bedroom. Diana's disappearance exposes open wounds among all the families whose lives she touched.
Suburban noir—dark, funny and sometimes creepy; readers may be surprised at the amount of empathy they end up feeling for less-than-appealing characters.
Read an Excerpt
There was a breeze high up, rustling through the palm trees, but the air below was still and hot. There was no shelter from the bright sun that beat down on her outside the locked front door of the house that belonged, according to its mailbox, to “The Montanas.” She could see that some of the other houses on the street had little overhangs on their front doors; a good thing if you didn’t want to roast to death while you stood outside in the summer waiting for someone you’d never met to come home.
But this door had no shade, nowhere to rest, and nothing to hide behind. She was tired and overheated. The initial rush of adrenaline she’d felt when she first knocked on the door?—?not knowing who would answer or how that person would receive her?—?had worn off, leaving her feeling sweaty and tense. She hated just standing there, her broke-ass suitcase propped up next to her and her worn-out purse on top of it. No way she fit into this neighborhood?—?that much was obvious.
She waited. Five minutes. Maybe ten. Finally, she had to sit. She eased herself down on the burning concrete driveway, folding her thin skirt under her, more out of a need to protect her legs from the heat than a desire for modesty. Her feet were dusty?—?dirty, really. She needed a shower and some water to drink. Who would have thought it would be hotter here than in Las Vegas? Or maybe it just felt hotter because you never sat outside in Vegas in July and cooked yourself like a chicken. The baby kicked hard as if agreeing with her. “Sshh,” she whispered, hand to her belly. “You don’t have to tell me.”
The longer she sat, the more nervous she became, and she couldn’t understand why. It was a quiet street, peaceful. No dogs barking or lawn mowers running. Just that little whisper of a breeze up high and that tiny hum in the air you could hear when it was superhot, as if things were growing or stretching. Maybe it was too quiet here, like there was no human life to make any sound. Like everyone had disappeared or been vaporized and she was the only person left. But no, of course not. For sure there were people behind all those closed doors. It just seemed unnaturally still. Wrong.
She wished she could listen to her iPod?—?just drown out all this silence?—?but between packing and fighting with her mother this morning she’d forgotten to charge it. She hadn’t even made it through the short flight over here before the battery died. She wondered if you could actually get addicted to an iPod because she was definitely having some kind of withdrawal from hers. Without her music, she barely even knew how to think in a straight line. She pulled herself in, tried to fix on a mental point in space, and came up with how much she hated her mother. That feeling was so strong, so big, it allowed her immediate focus.
How could a woman be so heartless as to kick her own child out of her house?
This was the key question and everything else?—?the hurt, the anger, the indignity, just built on top of it.
It wasn’t bad enough that her mother had pushed her out?—?given up on her?—?or that her mother was sending her to the home of some asshole white guy who obviously had never even given half a shit that he had a daughter at all. But when her mother had resorted to used-up clichés to defend her actions, that was the worst. Because that made everything?—?her entire life?—?meaningless.
It’s for your own good, her mother had said.
I’m at my wit’s end with you.
You need to learn some responsibility and get your head on straight.
I’m so disappointed in you.
What was her mother most disappointed about, really? That she’d gotten pregnant? Or that she wouldn’t have an abortion? She didn’t know if she’d ever get an answer to that question, not that she was going to try. It was almost funny how wrong she had been about her mother. You’d think you’d know the person who’d birthed you, wouldn’t you? Before telling her mother she was pregnant she’d imagined all kinds of scenarios: She started with the one where her mother cried at first but then took her in her arms and made it all right, the one where her mother shouted and stayed angry but dealt with it, and the one where her mother got disappointed and sad and wanted to discuss “options.” But she never would have imagined or predicted her mother’s quiet disgust upon hearing the news or her explosive rage when she refused to have an abortion.
“How can you even say that?” she’d asked her mother. “How could you even suggest it? What if you’d aborted me? Do you wish you had now?”
“Was I a stupid seventeen-year-old when I had you?” her mother countered. “No. I was a grown-up and fully aware of what I was doing. Not you. You have no idea what it takes to raise a child or what it means to give up yourself for another person.”
“So you’re sorry you had me? That’s what you’re saying?”
And it went on like that for a long, long time. Every day she found herself hating her mother a little bit more and that went to the littlest things: her clothes (matching synthetic old-lady-looking tops and pants, ugly white bras bought on sale), her habits (that one cigarette and that one glass of wine every single night), even the way her mouth moved around the food she ate. Every word out of her mouth became a jabbing needle, every freshly disappointed sigh a scrape against her skin. Then it got to where they just didn’t talk at all, her mother’s disgust getting harder and quieter until it was a thick rock wall between the two of them. It must have been during those silent angry days and nights when her mother hatched this plan to get rid of her and the baby together. Away, shame and disgrace. Though, come on, who even cared about this crap anymore? Who paid attention? Were they such celebrities that it made a damn bit of difference if one single mother raised another single mother?
She supposed she could have fought it?—?refused to go. But by the time school let out she was more than ready to get the hell out. That she should leave?—?and show up unannounced on this very doorstep?—?was the only thing she and her mother had agreed on in months.
She held the hate close, burrowed into it, felt its white-hot points stab the backs of her eyes. She would never forgive her mother, no. There was some comfort in that, even though she could feel the tickle of tears starting then oozing down her face. Damn, she hated that too?—?the crying. Stop it. Stop acting like such a girly-girl.
She looked up and out, desperate for distraction, and two things happened at once. The first was the sudden sound of a piano coming from somewhere down the street, behind one of those open windows. She had taken piano lessons herself a long time ago when her mother still cared about enriching her, and so she could tell that this performance had nothing to do with a desire to play and everything to do with the command to practice. She recognized the music too, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” which could be the most beautiful piece to listen to, but in this case, sounded like a home invasion. The pianist was technically good, but there was no love in the music. He?—?it was probably a he, she decided?—?banged the keys as if he were trying to break the piano. And as the music went on, swirling through the hot summer air, anger and frustration swelled, gaining strength with every note. So much for silence.
At the moment her ears had picked up the sound of the piano, her eyes had caught sight of a woman crouching in front of a bush of purple flowers at the end of the street. It took her a second to realize that the woman was not hiding in the bushes but pruning them with a large pair of scissors so brightly colored that she could see their yellow glow all the way from where she sat. And then, after she’d stared long enough to put all the information together, she realized that the woman (who was wearing what looked like a pink velour tracksuit) was staring at her. Her reaction time was slowed by the heat, so it took the baby giving her another hard kick for her to break the stare and look away.
“Sshh,” she said again. “Quit it.” But by then she was talking to herself as much as the baby. She was so uncomfortable again?—?this was happening more and more frequently?—?and she had to pee. If somebody didn’t come home soon, that was going to be a big problem because there was only so long she could hold it. She thought about knocking on doors, asking for a bathroom. Hey, welcome to the neighborhood, pregnant girl, come on in and piss in our pot. Sure. Maybe she’d follow the sound of that raging piano. Whoever was playing might be able to understand.
She stood up, looked down the street. Gardening woman stood up too. Wow, there was an ass on her?—?she could see that even from one, two . . . seven houses down. Gardening woman looked away. A garage door opened across the street. The noise, a creaking hoist, startled her. A woman in spike heels and a very short white skirt opened the trunk of the car inside the garage and leaned in. She could see the outline of the woman’s red thong underwear through the too-sheer material of her skirt and the tight muscles in the back of her spray-tanned thighs. The woman straightened, slammed the trunk shut, walked around to the driver’s side, and got in. If that bi-atch wasn’t a hooker, she played one on TV. No question. The woman peeled out of her garage so fast she was down the street before the garage door finished closing. Exhaust and noise filled the air, and by the time it settled, the pianist had switched tunes. He was on Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” now, murdering it deader than he had the Beethoven.
Now there was something else in the air too?—?the faintest whiff of cigarette smoke. She held her breath. Ever since the baby, cigarette smoke made her sick to her stomach, which could be a bit of a problem in Las Vegas, but she hadn’t expected to find it here, in San Diego, where apparently you weren’t allowed to smoke anywhere. Good thing weed didn’t have the same effect. She knew that was weird?—?weed smoke was still smoke?—?but it was true. She could be standing in the middle of a weed bonfire and it wouldn’t bother her in the slightest. Quite the opposite. In fact, she could really use a nice weed bonfire right about now or even just a goddamned hit. She wondered if the Montanas were weed smokers and if there was a stash somewhere she might raid. She’d have to look around when?—?or if?—?she finally got inside. They’d have something, even if it wasn’t weed. Everybody had something.
The wafting cigarette smoke hit her nostrils again and her stomach gave a slight lurch. She turned her head, looking for the source, and found it halfway down the street. A skinny woman with short black hair stood at the edge of her driveway, leaning against her mailbox, puffing on a smoke like her life depended on it. Maybe she could feel the weight of a stare at her back because she turned, registered, and smiled, waving the cigarette-holding hand as a greeting. As a response, she waved her own hands in front of her face as if to get rid of the smoke, which was rude, but whatever, because it was also rude to stand and smoke on people. Why didn’t the woman go do that in her own house where she couldn’t pollute other people’s air?
She hated people who smoked.
No, she didn’t hate people who smoked. She hated her mother. Who smoked one goddamned cigarette?—?just one?—?every goddamned day.
Her bladder was totally full now and threatening to burst. She was sweating again and feeling anxious?—?heart racing. She was seized by something close to panic?—?maybe it was panic?—?feeling hemmed in suddenly by this street with its garage doors and crazy piano and whores and weird women. The air felt sharp and hot in her nose. Her head pounded. The baby kicked in a flurry like it was trying to get out. Or get away.
I don’t want to be here.
From the Hardcover edition.