It’s 4 am on March 13, 1964 and Kat Genovese has just been stabbed in the courtyard of her Queens apartment complex. Many of her neighbors hear her scream and see her lying on the ground, but none call 911, each assuming someone else already did so. Kat’s neighbors are going through their own troubles, fuck you very much. A boy has to tell his dying mother that he’s ditching her to go to Vietnam in the morning. A wife swapping party leaves one man thinking of making the swap stick permanently. A nurse fears she may have killed a baby on her way home from work. A woman confronts her cheating husband. So yeah, these characters and many more have a lot on their plate right now, Kat, so howzabout you call your own fucking ambulance?
From that description, Ryan David Jahn’s Good Neighbors, his debut novel based on the real Kitty Genovese case, sounds like a bloated epic but, let the Nerd emfuckingphatically reassure you, this shit reads like a balls-out thriller. The novel’s action taking place over just a few hours on that late night/early morning in March, every scenario is packed with tension and clear conflict, making for an intense hyper-melodrama a la Crash or Magnolia. Never fear, though, for this is shit is nowhere near as didactic as Crash nor as insane as Magnolia. (Though don’t get me wrong on that last one – The Nerd fucking loves him some Magnolia.)
Despite its fucking hugeness in scope, Jahn keeps things extremely tight. He’s able to create a clear scenario and a relatable character in just a few paragraphs, let us feel the despair and sadness of their lot, then put the screws to them a few pages later and have us dying to know their fate. I’m guessing Jahn’s no slouch at the short story game – and any of the mini arcs of this cast would have made for rock solid short stories on their own – but the way they intersect and build on one another makes for something far more satisfying than an anthology.
But though Good Neighbors is an ambitious and thoughtful book, don’t think Jahn skimps on violence, menace and darkness that a book (rather disturbingly, come to think of it) requires to get my seal of approval. Some characters in here have truly fucking noir journeys to take in just a few scant hours, be it the paramedic wronged in childhood given a fucking cherry chance to right it, or the corrupt cop who handles a blackmailer in a very Vic Mackey-esque way. Then there’s poor Kat herself, bleeding out on the pavement, trying to put one skinned forearm in front of the other to make it to a phone – just fucking harrowing stuff, dear reader.
To say that Jahn is going to be one to watch is almost pointless, because once you get a handle on Good Neighbors, once it sack-taps you and slaps your face in quick succession, no fucking way are you taking your eyes of this guy. I’m down for whatever Jahn puts out next, be it a nasty-ass thriller or just a character-driven piece – this guy can do both, do it well, and even at the same fucking time.