I admit I was initially attracted to Saralee Rosenberg’s Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead because of the pink on the cover and the punchy, dry title, but what kept me reading the novel compulsively were the entertaining, true-to-life characters, realistic dialogue and plot that was anything but predictable. This is an awesome novel.
Long Island mom of three Mindy Sherman looks at the life of next-door neighbor Beth Diamond and sees everything she doesn’t have — wealth, prestige, expensive purses. But what Mindy doesn’t realize is what Beth is seeing looking across that same fence — a loving marriage, happy children, contentment.
And so goes this story of dueling neighbors who realize they have far more in common than they could have ever dreamed, and I absolutely loved every second of my stay in Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead. Alternating between laugh-out-loud hilarious and heartbreakingly poignant, every twist and turn of this story kept me flipping the pages — and sometimes flipping ahead, dying to know what was going to happen. Sprinkle in some in-laws who can’t quit their kvetching, Mindy’s well-meaning best friend-turned-gossip who can’t keep Beth’s business off the Internet, a long-lost son, and several teenage girls who want nothing more than to have the bat mitzvahs of their dreams and you’re in for something pretty different.
But it’s not all antics and retaliation between these two. Beth’s “perfect” life is, of course, anything but perfect, and as the walls of her fragile marriage begin to crumble under the weight of husband Richard’s betrayals, Beth begins to lean on Mindy for moral support. Beth’s turn-around from instigator to new BFF is anything but expected, and Mindy is resentful of having to do favors for a woman who would gossip incessantly about her family and take any available opportunity to criticize Mindy’s weight and lifestyle. But never one to turn away someone in need, Mindy and her husband Artie became entangled in the Diamonds’ affairs, growing with them as they overcome financial and martial struggles and helping alleviate some of the neighborhood gossip.
And so Beth and Mindy become unlikely allies — and that wasn’t anywhere near the only surprise (but don’t worry, that really isn’t a spoiler — you can tell from day one they have a love/hate friendship). There were so many twists and unexpected changes in the story, I didn’t see any of the major plot points coming. Just as Mindy herself says in one of the later chapters, “It’s never the stuff you worry about that happens, it’s the stuff you don’t see coming that incapacitates you like a Taser.” And, later, “It’s never the things that you plan on that go right, it’s the things you don’t see coming that can turn your life around.”
Among the strong themes of friendship and family is a prevailing religious belief in “bashert,” or destiny — though it doesn’t translate perfectly into English. So much of the story just rings true to life — it seemed like Beth could be your own annoying neighbor, and Mindy the best friend posting on your Facebook wall. Mindy’s longing for answers from her kind, wise and, sadly, deceased father could be the cries from any confused child wanting the guidance of a parent. Beth’s anger over the possibility of losing her lavish lifestyle has less to do with snobbery and more to do with fear of the unknown.
My only gripe? There were a ton of punctual errors — places were end-quotes should have been and were not. I’m assuming this was some error on the printer’s part, but it was very distracting to me. I’m sure the non-nit-picky reader would catch them, too. But I absolutely wouldn’t let that dampen my very enthusiastic recommendation of the novel — you’ll pour through it in a matter of days. And you just might have a tear in your eye, too.
5 out of 5!