Home is where it all starts for us. From the moment we come into this world, we’re thrust into a situation not of our own choosing. It’s the place where people feel sheltered from the harsh realities of life. But home is also a place of tension and struggle. It’s where relationships prosper or die in close proximity, and where conflict is consciously avoided or met head on. Those beautiful homes you see are uniquely designed to keep secrets hidden, and to present the illusion of a loving, caring family. Sure, there’s much happiness to be found at home. But there’s also dysfunction, abuse, infidelity and addiction.
This is why I wrote The Neighbor. If many crimes are borne from the heart, then the home is where criminal behavior is initially formed. Suburban sprawl and the expansion of the middle class have given rise to isolation and despair. McMansion-like developments facilitate even more privacy, allowing families to effectively hide their secrets from the community at large. Moral ambiguity obfuscates the choices family members must make.
Have you ever wondered what’s going on inside your neighbor’s home? Or on occasion heard strange sounds emanating from behind their walls? Seen odd people coming and going? Maybe an unfamiliar man or woman sneaking inside when a spouse is at work? Observed the neighbors’ kids partying by the pool when their parents are away? We’re only human; we can’t help but be curious about the lives of the people around us.
Leah and Clay Daniels, the main characters in THE NEIGHBOR, are curious as well. Maybe even more so than the average neighbors. As parents of two children, they are experiencing the same pressures facing most families. Like all marriages, the Daniels relationship is fraught with pitfalls and temptations. Their American Dream is the dream shared by most families. It’s so close at hand, and yet at the same time just out of reach. And although dreams differ from family to family, the essence of this dream involves owning a nice home, security, and a caring network of family, friends and neighbors. But when the dream begins to disintegrate, it can often start to look like a nightmare.
Of all the jobs I’ve held, being a social worker has allowed me a window into the heart of domestic darkness. I’ve seen the worst that humanity has to offer and witnessed the evil that some families try desperately to hide. The pain is real and it cycles through generations. The problems that arise from such dysfunction ripples out like waves until it negatively affects society at large.
I’ve been married over twenty years. Kids, dogs, the nice house in the suburbs. I grew up near Boston in a loud, chaotic household of six boys. There was the authoritarian father and Irish Catholic mother who made us go to Mass each Sunday. And repenting for our sins, behind closed doors, was an important part of the Catholic ritual. For this reason, family life has always intrigued me, which is why I was drawn to authors such as Cheever, Updike and John Irving.
As a boy, I loved crime novels and mysteries, and grew up reading The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators. Like Nancy Drew, all of these sleuths were clean cut kids solving crimes in the heart of an ever growing suburbia. Then, like most mature readers, I transitioned to reading mysteries and crime novels.
As a writer, I sought to combine my literary interests, drawing upon the insights and observations that I’ve experienced in life.
My career has followed a trajectory that’s led me to writing about familial strife. These psychological thrillers examine the household dynamic in microscopic detail and highlight their struggles in the modern age. In this genre, however, the dynamic is made even more combustible by the introduction of a crime. It’s why I so love writing and reading these types of books; because most families can relate to domestic conflict. It’s a struggle all of us have at one time experienced.
Then add in the pressures facing people today: social media, video games, increased mental illness, violent movies, high expectations, school shootings, economic hardships, drugs and alcohol. It’s no wonder so many families today are under siege. Unfortunately, law enforcement and the social welfare system can barely keep pace with the growing demand for services, and thus families in need of help are often left to their own devices.
It’s given authors like me plenty of fodder for our novels.
The job of a successful writer is to raise profound questions about society while at the same time entertain. To this degree, the family structure provides the foundation to being a good citizen. Every single one of us has been shaped and formed by the people that raised us. Domestic intrigue started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, progressed to Cain murdering his brother Abel, and has continued to interest readers to this day.
Hopefully, when you find your way home, you’ll be embraced by those who nurtured and loved you. It will be a comforting place where your heart resides. But for a few unfortunate souls, home life will always be fraught with peril. If only such crimes could exist in the pages of fiction, the world would be a better place. In the meantime, I’ll still be here on the home front, typing away.