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A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne Algonquin, 1997, 285 pp., $17.95 This startling debut novel presents a wholesome neighborhood in Maryland as a microcosm of the Watergate Era. The protagonist, Marsha, is an eerily observant ten year old whose peculiar misinterpretations of the problems surrounding her are byproducts of this time of calamitous social change. Though the book's title primarily refers to the murder of a twelve-year-old boy from Marsha's presumably safe community, it also describes a multitude of other events that take place in the course of the novel: Marsha's father's affair with her eccentric aunt; his neglect of the family at a time when everything around them seems to be failing apart; and the scandals occurring right around the corner in Washington , D.C., which provide a backdrop for the story. A naive child surrounded by symbols of domestic and political turmoil, Marsha is overwhelmed by the question , "Why do people hurt each other?" Fascinated and frustrated with the confusing mechanics of pain, she records clues concerning the murder and other neighborhood "crimes" in a painstakingly detailed notebook. Recalling the start of this project, she remarks, "I had never realized our house contained so many damaged things. Soon it seemed I couldn't look at anything without finding something wrong with it." This statement foreshadows the paranoia with which Marsha comes to view her entire neighborhood, as she dedicates herself to monitoring the trivial activities of particular neighbors. The adults in this story, much like Marsha, are propelled by fierce determination and a lack of understanding . When news of the boy's murder breaks, several fathers establish a "Night Watch," in which they take turns patrolling the community in a futile search for evidence . Marsha's next door neighbor, a single man out of place in a family neighborhood, becomes the prime murder suspect, both in her notebook and in the minds of frightened parents. But the story is about more than a child's death and its burgeoning effects . It is evident that the neighbors mourn not only the loss of an individual but also the loss of a "safe neighborhood"—essentially a society that allowed them to trust their neighbors, their spouses, and their politicians. The paranoia of Marsha 's notebook and the gossip of the community result from an inability to deal with the chaos of change. Although Berne clearly views the efforts of the characters to discover the child's murderer as a type of witch hunt, she refrains from villainizing them for this mistake. "Because the truth is, mistakes are where life really happens," the narrator observes midway through the book. "Mistakes are when we get tricked into realizing something we never meant to realize, which is why stories are about mistakes. Mistakes are the moments when we don't know what will happen to us next." Berne successfully intertwines the domestic and the political in this suspenseful novel. Although most of Marsha's questions raised in the course of the story remain unanswered, she is changed by her The Missouri Review · 207 grappling with them and, by the end, she has at least begun to understand why people hurt each other. Disturbingly, she learns this by hurting someone else. Economical but far-reaching, A Crime in the Neighborhood offers a frighteningly believable account of how a small community reacts to a changing society. (MM) Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat by Beth Archer Brombert Little, Brown, 1996, 505 pp., $29.95 Edouard Manet may be the only impressionist whose work has retained its capacity to shock. Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Gaugin, all radicals in their time, have been sentimentalized almost into meaninglessness . Monets hang on dormitory walls, Degas dancers (who were just a step above prostitutes in their time) hang in little girls' pink bedrooms . Even Van Gogh's most psychotic self-portraits are the stuff of postcards and children's art history books. The impressionists, for the most part, just aren't scary anymore. But Manet's masterworks—the aggressively sexual prostitute in Olympia, the satiric decadence of Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe, the pathos of Barat the Folies Berg...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 207-208
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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