The Good Neighbor - Jay Quinn

Ladymol's Review

If youíve been following our reviews, youíll know that Quinn is one of our favourite authors. ďMetes and BoundsĒ, his youthful novel of coming out, and ďBack Where He StartedĒ, his thoughtful, astounding novel of middle age love are two of my favourites on the whole list.

The Good Neighbor shows yet again another side of Quinnís writing. This one is a very restrained story of middle class, middle age America, yet the passion simmers beneath the surface. Itís almost as if Quinn is sensing something in his own life, some sort of crisis approaching that he hasnít quite worked out and never really resolves with these characters.

Ostensibly itís a very simple story. Two couples living next door to each other. One partner of each works, the other is stay-at-home. The stay at home pair begin an affair. Where the twist comes, of course, is that one couple is gay, and the affair is between two men.

Austin has lost his job, and Meg, his wife, has become the breadwinner. At home most of the day, he begins to watch, obsessively, the gay couple next door, particularly Rory, the pretty boy.

Quinn mixes an exploration of the relationships between heterosexual couples when roles reverse in with the main plot of the blossoming affair between the two men. Iím not entirely sure the mix worked for me. I read gay novels so I donít have to read about women and their various concerns.

The fascinating and very sexy part of the novel was ďstraightĒ Austinís growing obsession with the beautiful Rory. I wished it had been dragged out a little longer Ė that delicious anticipation, the will he/wonít he moments. Austinís timing is remarkable, for his interest in Rory coincides with Rory suddenly needing something else in his life. That something becomes Austin.

The relationship between Rory and his lover Bruno is remarkable. Itís mature, sexy, difficult and almost abusive, yet so not at the same time. I loved the scenes with them together, despite also wanting Rory and Austin to work out. Iím convinced (and sincerely hopeful) that Quinn had a sequel in mind when he wrote the resolution of this tangled web. The novel cries out for more Rory and Bruno in the fallout of the affair.

Quinn remains one of my favourite authors although this novel was more of a sideward move rather than a dramatic confirmation of his amazing writing talent.†

Cerisaye's Review

I enjoyed bits of this novel but it's not up to the standard of Quinn's earlier books. Light reading, undemanding, with a simplified writing style. There are flashes of the beautiful writing, deft characterisation and sparkling dialogue I'd expect from Quinn but the rest is pedestrian and that annoyed me. We're told too much, as if Quinn lacked confidence we could understand without spelling everything out. There are 4 main characters, 2 complete caricatures, all of them materialistic and shallow, affluent middle-aged suburbanites. The story is predictable, has no staying power and the resolution too easy. I read gay romantic fiction online a lot better, and itís free.

However, one shining light makes up for all that- the central relationship between a 40 year-old straight guy and his gay next door neighbour. I recommend the novel for this alone. Beautifully drawn, very touching, so real it must reflect personal experience. The only part of the story to take my breath away and leave me wondering what happened next. I just wish Quinn had made this the sole focus of the story because itís the strongest part without doubt.

It's wonderful to read another book from Quinn that shows middle-aged characters with active and interesting lives and new opportunities, still growing, not mourning lost youth and settling for a slow decline!

When Meg & Austin, and their boys Noah & Josh, move into their dream house on a fancy Florida gated estate they're surprised to find a gay couple next door. It turns out they'd all met before, back when they were at college, though it's only Austin who really remembers beautiful auburn haired Rory and his macho lover Bruno. The story is about what happens when two of them cross boundaries, literal & metaphorical, that separate their homes and personal lives, to mix friendship and sex, threatening existing relationships.

I couldnít stand Meg- weíre talking pantomime Boo! Hiss! villainy. Okay I was never going to like the woman who comes between two boys in their relationship, but Quinn just goes way over the top with the ball-breaking, career obsessed, sexually repressed, homophobic, control-freakery. Sheís a BITCH. Surely itís possible to write about a guy having a crisis of masculinity without resorting to caricature? Some of the things she says and does just defy belief. Bruno is just as cardboard, but much more sympathetic. I DID like that he has 3 straight brothers and HIS marriage is the strongest, as pointed out by his supportive mother. Rory is just too saintly to be believable, though I liked him. He has all the Ďfeminineí qualities Meg lacks, of course. Heís the ideal wife.

Austin wants to find again what he had with a buddy when he was 15 but too scared to enjoy, not just sex but intimacy and emotional connection. Rory is betrayed by Bruno and flattered by Austinís interest. They use each other but itís much more than that. Quinn draws this exquisite relationship with fine brushstrokes in marked contrast with the crude daubing of their respective partners. The sex is good, except the annoying way Austin has to think of Meg every time, comparing her girlparts with Rory. Realistic too, as Austin doesnít just leap into bed with Rory. For Rory, too, their relationship stirs memories, but not, in his case, good ones: HE was the gay boy used then rejected by scared and confused straight buddies (like Austin) who couldnít mix sex with friendship. Old wounds that still havenít healed.

There is a sizeable group of men-who-have-sexĖwith-men but canít LOVE them. Austin is not one of those, and thatís what makes his story interesting. I hated Meg so much I didnít want Austin to stay with her, couldnít in fact see WHY he would- she tells her sons gay people are filthy and washes Noahís male smell off her hands! I really liked how Quinn shows the relationship between Austin and his sons. Austin has been main carer since his job changed and has much to offer his boys even if their mother can't see that.

The novel raises important questions about marriage, sexuality, love and friendship. Questions dealt with rather too neatly by an ending that didnít satisfy me. I just didn't buy it. The book does effectively show gay relationships and marriages as subject to the same pressures as straight ones. It's a pity Quinn's execution just isn't up to his previous work.