Watching From the Window: A Review of The Widow Next Door by L.A. Detwiler
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Thrillers are my second favorite genre, but the more thrillers I read, the less and less I am finding ones I enjoy. And I know I can't be alone in this.
This past December, I began running social media for a local bookstore. The first event I covered for the store was a massive six author book signing. L.A. Detwiler was among the authors who were part of the event. I am so glad that I worked this event because I found one of the most enjoyable thrillers I’ve read in a long time.
Before beginning my review, there is a trigger warning for this book. The Widow Next Door deals with multiple forms of abuse as well as suicide.
The Widow Next Door is not what I was expecting. The title and synopsis present the notion that the novel is going to follow a young couple, Jane and Alex, who move in across the street from an elderly woman. Things seem ideal until the wife realizes that her new neighbor constantly watches her and her husband’s day to day life.
While all this is true, I expected the novel to be from the point of view of the young couple; and more specifically, the wife’s fear and anxieties over the neighbor’s constant surveillance. Upon beginning the book, my expectations were automatically proven wrong as Detwiler writes from the point of view of the elderly woman.
Honestly, bless the fact that we get to read from this point of view. I do believe I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book as much had I been reading from Jane’s point of view. As the story progresses, we realize that Jane has her own psychological issues, and while her side of the story would also have been interesting to read, I greatly appreciate the outside looking in type of narrative.
The widow we follow spends most of her days sitting in a rocking chair and staring out her front window. She just watches the world around her, but since she lives on a dead end street, there isn’t much to look at except for a few birds, other woodland critters, and the empty house across the street.
When Alex and Jane move in, things get interesting. She is engrossed with her new neighbors; believing that they will bring life back to the street. You can definitely say they do that. Life and excitement return to the old lady’s life as she gets to watch her neighbors, and think about their life together, all day everyday.
As she gets to know Jane, the widow and readers alike learn that Jane suffers from some sort of psychological issues; what she suffers from is never specified. That being said, readers do find out exactly what our narrator suffers from, and since it is such a sever mental disorder, she becomes an even more unreliable narrator than she already was. At the beginning of the story, you automatically don’t trust her given what she does all day, but when it is revealed as to what she suffers from, which I’m not going to reveal as it would be a massive spoiler, it’s a big “oh no” moment that keeps you reading until the end.
Throughout the novel, the present day is intercut with flashback scenes of when our narrator was a young woman falling in love, and even further back when she was a child.
I enjoyed these flashbacks the most. While the story was intriguing, getting to see the early life of the old lady, and what shaped her into who she is, is the stand out part of the novel to me. You sympathize with her based on the abuse she suffers, but you still hate her based on what she has done. It’s a great blending of emotions as I found myself super conflicted while reading the book between wanting to feel sorry for her, but also wanting her to be caught for everything she has done in the past.
Fun fact, Detwiler owns a mastiff and in every book she writes she includes a reference to her dog into all of her books. This fun fact has nothing to do with the blending of emotions, but I needed to include this somewhere. Should this tiny paragraph be here? No, absolutely not. But at am I going to keep it here anyway? Yes, yes I am.
Another thing I did absolutely love about this book were the name choices for Jane and Alex. Why? You’re asking. Because Jane and Alex are two of the most basic names, which allows you as a reader to wonder who they truly are instead of how they are presented through the widow’s point of view. You are able to think of them as anyone you please, you may know a couple like Jane and Alex, you may just want to think of them as the way they are presented by their neighbor. I just deeply appreciate the name choices for the pair because it donned on me a few chapters in that there was a possibility Jane and Alex might not actually exist. The blandness of the names just makes you wonder if everything that happens might just be in the widow’s head.
As to what I dislike with the novel, the flashbacks are main issue. I know I that I just said that I enjoyed the flashbacks because they were a way for me as a reader to learn more about the narrator. I think that the flashbacks between the widow and her younger sister are very necessary, and definitely add to the story. But, I feel that the flashbacks between the widow and her late husband are a weak point.
We get to see our narrator falling in love, but we don’t see her and her husband’s rough patches. Her husband does kill himself, but we don’t see any points leading up to that. We know that the pair have been fighting, and we know that there is some level of abuse in the relationship, but everything about the pair and the events leading up to his death is very unclear. I didn’t need to see the husband’s suicide, which Detwiler does not show us, but I would have liked more details of the pair's life leading up to that point.
My other issue is just how much our main character complains about her arthritis. In-between watching her neighbors, the text is intercut with scene upon scene of the widow making tea, her arthritis, complaining about getting older, her arthritis, her talking to her cat Amos, and did I mention her arthritis? Like, please just get back to watching your neighbors.
This is definitely a slow burn; a very slow burn. Full disclosure, nothing really happens in the first third of the book; aside from arthritic complaints. But, a book with an unreliable narrator always has my attention, and I enjoyed this one.