The Woman Next Door
The premise of the story is this: A woman, widowed for slightly over a year, is now visibly pregnant. Given those circumstances, she – and the identify of the father – become the center of speculation by the neighborhood women who both shun her and desperately wish that she would reveal the answer to the mystery that’s on everyone’s minds. While this plot sounded intriguing enough to me, the follow-through and ending weren’t as satisfying as I’d hoped.
In a cul-de-sac in the upscale town of Woodley, Connecticut, three couples find themselves dealing the little curveballs life throws at them. There are Karen and Lee Cotter, Georgia and Russ Lange, and Amanda and Graham O’Leary, who are trying to conceive a child. In fact, Amanda and Graham have been trying for several years and the fact that all their efforts are met with failure is taking a toll on their marriage. The emotional baggage and family history that each carries soon finds an outlet whenever they argue, until Amanda asks for a break from the constant trying and ultimate heartbreak. Graham finds the request unacceptable.
As for the pregnant widow, that’s neighbor Gretchen. She was married to widower Ben (who had been married to June until her death). Gretchen was much younger than Ben and was never truly accepted by the women in the neighborhood. It’s been a year now since Ben’s death and Gretchen is pregnant. As a result, there is much speculation about who the father of her unborn baby is. Karen has the most reason to be suspicious since Lee has a history of cheating, but at some point Georgia and Amanda find themselves wondering about their own husbands. Aside from Karen – whom I thought was justified in suspecting Lee – I found it a little disturbing that just because there is a pregnant woman in the neighborhood, the other women would think their own husbands had done it, however brief the thought.
Amanda, a school psychologist, finds herself in the middle of a tragedy at the same time she is struggling with her inability to conceive along with the continuing breakdown of her marriage to Graham. Graham is not the most sympathetic husband since he never thinks of all the pressures his overwhelming relatives bring to bear on Amanda. He continues to insist they keep trying without much apparent thought to her state of mind. Although I never got a good “feel” for Amanda and believe some of her tentative behavior was to blame for some of their problems, I found Graham a little callous and thoughtless as well.
Although The Woman Next Door dealt with the very modern subject of infertility and the treatment options for couples who cannot conceive, the method of storytelling felt dated – the suspicions of neighbors who live in a cul-de-sac reminded me of the 1980’s series Knots Landing. For those unfamiliar with the show, it was a spin-off of Dallas – not the most subtle of television, and Knots Landing shared it’s melodramatic, soap opera glory.
None of the characters in The Woman Next Door ever came to life for me. I felt I knew more about their homes and decoration, what they ate and where they worked rather than the characters themselves. Not only where these characters too superficially rendered, the manner in which their storylines were resolved was too pat. Given how much Amanda and Graham struggled and how much of a focus the paternity of Gretchen’s baby was, I wished for a more original ending. Barbara Delinsky’s romance roots have helped her write some good women’s fiction – this book doesn’t fall into that category.