the woman next door

T. M. Wright
Playboy Paperbacks
1981

The woman in the chair had sensed the approach of death several days before, as if it were a train just beyond the horizon, and she could do nothing but sit and wait for it.

Marilyn had a perfect life.  Her home was decorated just so.  She had a loving husband.  She had a well-mannered, obedient son.  But slowly her perfect life disintegrated – at the same time Marilyn acquired a new neighbor.  The young woman next door was confined to a wheelchair.  But somehow that didn’t stop Christine from becoming Marilyn’s confidante.  And Marilyn certainly needed someone to turn to.  Her husband was interested in a mysterious woman.  Her son had  frightening playmate.  And her house wasn’t lovely anymore – it was closing in on her like a hungry animal.  Someone – or something – hated Marilyn enough to exact a slow, painful and unearthly retribution.  And that someone could be Marilyn’s only friend…

I have this thing about books that closely resembles that of people who come across adorable animals.  I see an abandoned book somewhere, and I want to give it a good home, where it will be loved.  As a result, I sometimes forget about “adopting” this book, and am quite surprised when I run across it again while perusing my own bookshelves.

Such was the issue with The Woman Next Door, by T. M. Wright.  I can’t remember exactly if it was a Goodwill or a cast-off items table where I picked up this battered paperback; I just didn’t get around to reading it until years later, after picking up and reading another T. M. Wright novel – The Waiting Room – and thinking I should maybe check out some more of the writer’s output, when I was going through my bookshelves and discovered, lo and behold, that I had another one of his titles in my collection after all.  Good thing I didn’t get that duplicate copy from Half Price Books, there.  Anyway…

The Woman Next Door is a tensely written psychological thriller novel about one of “those” neighbors.  You know the type: a well-to-do lady with a big house, lots of nice furniture, and a husband and son in an affluent neighborhood.  This one being in upstate New York.  And like many real-life neighbors, this one turns out to be going insane due to her life-long sociopathic tendencies, helped along by the unconscious psycho-telekenetic projections of the wheelchair-bound young lady that just moved in next door with her photographer husband.  A young lady who has closer ties to her batty neighbor than they both know.

The plot of the story was written rather well, in a simple yet compelling style that moved things along at a decent pace.  I guess the downside here is the anaemic development of the characters beyond merely functional to the story.  There’s not much investment in what happens to them; in fact, there’s a few instances where something interesting builds up, but then kind of fizzles out before being fully realized.  I think a good fleshing out would have benefited the story big time.

Overall, The Woman Next Door was a moderately quick read with a really interesting premise that didn’t seem to be completely baked through enough.  Regardless, one of the better-written horror novels from the 1980s I’ve read.

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