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The Good Neighbor

A Novel

The Good Neighbor by William Kowalski
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When Francie and Colt Hart drive past an abandoned 150-year-old farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania, they both fall head-over-heels in love with it -- but for entirely different reasons. Colt, an ambitious, hard-charging stock trader, sees it as a potential showcase for his wealth. Francie, long dependent on antidepressants, hopes it will inspire her to resume the literary life she abandoned when she married Colt ten years before; perhaps, she thinks, it will save their faltering marriage. But the more they learn about the house, and especially the tragic history of its previous occupants (whose descendants are their new neighbors), the more it threatens to drive them apart.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

HarperCollins; June 2009
432 pages; ISBN 9780061952685
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Title: The Good Neighbor
Author: William Kowalski
 
Excerpt

Chapter One

Going Home

In the morning, the river seemed flat and still. At this early hour, there was no depth to it; it was as if one could bend down and pinch the water between thumb and forefinger and just peel it away, like a bandage, and underneath, the earth would be dry. There would be bones down there, and other secrets, too, whispering of the things that had already happened in that place, as well as things that were to come -- but they wouldn't have known any of this, not yet.

They came around that last bend in the road, where the bluff ends and the river plain begins, and the valley opened up before them like a drawing from a long-forgotten children's book. There was the house on one side of the road, and the thin, silent river on the other. Growing along the river were trees in profusion -- Francie saw wise sycamores, tentative birches, and weeping willows, as well as several sprightly young oaks and one stately old one. In their brilliant headdresses, they seemed to her like torches that had been stuck in the earth and left there to glower against the ragged gray belly of the sky. It was fall, the best time of the year in that part of the world.

Later, like jealous explorers, they would argue about who had seen the house first, Francine or Coltrane. It was difficult to determine, because the house wasn't the only thing to come to the eye once one had swung around the bend. There was too much else to look at. There were the rumpled mountains in the distance, for example, unstriking in either height or appearance, but lending a softening distraction to the scene, as if they were not real but a background image done in paint or chalk. They looked like something you could jump into, Francie thought, like the park scene in Mary Poppins. Also, there was the river, and all around them, the broad, fecund fields, whose varying greenness was still defiant and bright, so early was it still in this new season of dying. There was the road, which unspooled over the hilltop in the foreground like a runaway ribbon. But, really, it was the trees that got you first, with their colors of priestly saffron and Martian red. Francie would later tell Colt that he could not possibly have seen the house first, because he was driving, and it was tucked away on her side of the car. She let him have credit for discovering the river, because she didn't care about the river. She only cared about the house, and from the moment she saw it -- it really was she who saw it first, though they both exclaimed about it at the same time -- it was as if she'd never cared about any other place in her life until now.

"Pull over!" said Francie, although Colt was already doing it.

They parked at the side of the road, not daring the driveway, just looking up at the house. Then, after they'd sat in silence for several moments, she said to her husband, "I'd love to live here someday."

She expected him to make fun of her for this, but instead, to her astonishment, he said:

"Yeah, so would I."

One could see that this house was old, cut patiently by hand from living hardwood and frozen stone. There was a wraparound porch, ornamented with Victorian-style gingerbread cutouts and a swing on a chain, but the gingerbread was new and pretentious, clearly out of place. Whoever had put it there was trying too hard, Francie thought. If it was up to her, she'd take it down. There were three stories, plus what looked to be an attic, or a half-story of some sort. A small round window hinted that it might be interesting up there.

"That's where they kept the demonic stepchild," said Colt. "Until it killed all of them in their sleep."

"Shut up," said Francie. "Don't ruin it." Like you ruin everything else, she thought.

"Can a place like this actually be empty?" Colt wondered.

Timidly, they got out of the car and headed across the vast front lawn. Nobody came out to see what they wanted. No dogs barked. They went up the steps, Francie first, fearless now, and she pounded on the door. Without waiting for an answer, she went to one of the windows and put her face up to it, shading her eyes from the glare on the wrinkled old glass. She already knew that everyone was gone.

"Don't be so nosy," said Colt. "Maw and Paw will come after us with a shotgun."

"It's vacant," said Francie. "Nobody lives here."

She showed Colt the sitting room. Clean outlines on the walls and floor proved that it had been occupied in exactly the same way for a long time, and then had suddenly been emptied all at once, like a sink whose plug had been pulled.

"They were all murdered," Colt said darkly. "I can tell."

"They were not," said Francie. Normally it worked when Colt was trying to scare her, but this time she knew he was lying. "It's got a ... a feel to it. Alive. They liked it here."

"They? They who?"

"Everyone. Right down to the cats," she said. "Even the mice were happy."

"I wonder if it has termites," said Colt. "Probably does."

Without bothering to stop and ask each other what they were doing, they wandered around to the back.

Subject categories
ISBNs
0061952680
9780060936259
9780061952661
9780061952685
9780061952692
9780061952708