cover image A Crime in the Neighborhood

A Crime in the Neighborhood

Suzanne Berne. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $17.95 (294pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-165-2

Set in 1972, against the steamy summer of a Washington, D.C., suburb filled with the buzz of locusts and Walter Cronkite's breaking news reports on Watergate, Berne's marvelously controlled first novel explores the effect of a boy's brutal murder on a community and on a 10-year-old girl, a neighbor of the murdered child, whose own world is falling apart. With an elegiac beauty and sadness, the girl, Marsha, looks back from the vantage point of adulthood and tells how the story of the murder became her own story. She brings a keen observance of the events of that summer: of the night her mother smashed every dish on the table after confronting Marsha's father with knowledge of his affair with her favorite sister; of the desolate aftermath of the father's leaving; of the murder, followed by neighborhood night patrols; and of the fearful actions of a community that rallied not around the family of the dead boy but around its own desire for safety. At the climax of the story lies Marsha's role in a murder accusation leveled at an innocent neighbor. The menace and surface beauty of Berne's suburban landscape will remind many of the worlds of John Cheever or Shirley Jackson. Through seamless narrative structure, an extraordinary sense of lightness and suspense and a deeply affecting conclusion, Berne's debut delivers a resonant portrait of a girl's, a community's and a country's loss of innocence. Author tour. (June)