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The Good Neighbor    by William Kowalski order for
Good Neighbor
by William Kowalski
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

Colt and Francie Hart leave New York City for a rare Sunday drive through the Pennsylvania countryside. Colt's career in finance keeps him constantly busy chasing money and success. Francie is a stalled poet searching for inspiration in her otherwise dull life. Their time together is strained, but when they happen upon an empty, 150-year-old house on over fifty acres, they are both drawn to it and desperately want to buy it.

Once the purchase is complete and they move in, Francie and Colt come to realize that their motivations were entirely different. Francie feels drawn to the home's history, some of which she discovers in an old journal she finds. She also meets their closest neighbor whose family has ties to the house. Colt thinks of the property as a wonderful place to show off, and to invite business colleagues for vacation. Their cross purposes come to a dramatic head when Colt decides to dig up an old family cemetery behind the house. Conflict and insecurity will challenge their thoughts about each other and the future of their marriage.

The story moves back and forth through time to reveal both past and present conflicts surrounding the house - itself almost a character, as so many joyful and tragic circumstances center on it. Francie and Colt are such different people, it amazes me that their marriage survived over ten years without something acting as a catalyst for change. Readers get a real feel for Francie and how the house allows her to discover who she really is as a person. Colt is a little less defined, yet goes through a great deal of transformation before the ending.

But, although the core story is good, it doesn't all tie together cohesively. The neighbor, Randy, acts in a way that isn't consistent with his original characterization. Francie's relationship with her brother Michael is odd, but everyone seems to accept it as normal. They are strangely attached to each other, and then all of a sudden, she changes her views. His complete turnaround in the end seems out of the blue.

I enjoyed following the history of the house and its inhabitants. The past is never quite finished, and the way it affects the present is fascinating. If you can get past its eccentricities, The Good Neighbor's plot and characters make for an intriguing family saga spanning many generations.

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