These juicy family sagas bring addicting drama to spring reading: Review
But where one of March's biggest new novels feels a little stale, the other blazes a thrillingly original trail.
A Good Neighborhood, by Therese Anne Fowler
Stop us if you've heard this one before: An idyllic neighborhood suddenly erupts in scandal and tragedy with the arrival of new residents. The community is leafy Oak Knoll; the newbies are the Whitman family — white, rich, and a wee bit ostentatious; and the drama starts next door, where Valerie, a black single mother and professor, fights to protect her beloved oak tree after her new neighbors' careless swimming-pool installation damages its roots. Legal battles and teenage romance ensue; the ending feels painfully inevitable. Attempting to hit the sweet spot between Celeste Ng and Emily Giffin, sprinkling in some Liane Moriarty-esque chorus narration, Therese Anne Fowler crafts a readable saga nodding toward a bevy of social issues. But the lack of originality is glaring, its assembly of elements intended to attract readers of suburban fiction adding nothing new to the canon. B-
These Ghosts Are Family, by Maisy Card
The seemingly unforgivable is hardly so simple in Maisy Card's lyrical, ambitious debut, which rigorously explores the story behind and impact of one man's grand deceit. Jamaican-born Abel Paisley, who abandoned his wife, Vera, and adopted his dead close friend's identity to start a new life and family, looks back on his choice in old age. Now living in New York, he decides to tell his relatives — both former and new — the truth at last. Card is a restless writer. Her first chapter delivers a stunning series of second-person character portraits; they build into a centuries-spanning epic about race, trauma, and the weight of a lie. A-