I am not an avid reader of memoirs or personal stories. I find it easy to read fictional stories because they create a virtual world of make-believe. However, when I opened Peter Lovenheim’s book, I could not resist it. I began the first three pages, and the last thing I remember is that I had finished reading it in one sitting. In this review, I summarize Lovenheim’s book, assess the theme of the book, and give my recommendation of why I wish other people should read it.
In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time is a non-fictional memoir about Peter Lovenheim, a journalist and author born and raised in Rochester, New York. The book was published in 2010 by Penguin Publishing Group. The book thrives on a simple but inspiring question of “How do you know your neighbor?” In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to a disturbing incident when a person kills his wife before shooting himself to death. The man’s children manage to escape to a safe house in the neighborhood. The incident shocks everyone in the neighborhood. Lovenheim sets out to study his community after realizing that he did not know his neighbor. The memoir thrives on this theme of knowing one’s neighbor to explore the lives of people in Rochester. A few people open their doors for him to interview them, while others deny them an opportunity to complete his explorative study. Lovenheim’s project is to know his neighbors by spending a night at their homes and spending the day with them as they carry out their daily routines. This fits the title In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.
Critical Assessment of the Text
Lovenheim’s project to explore the disappearance of community in his neighborhood leads him to unearth social issues affecting people. It is through this project that he realizes how he is a stranger to his neighbors. In a detailed manner and a first-person narration, Lovenheim brings the reader to the reality of life in Rochester suburb. When reading Lovenheim’s book, one is not surprised by how day-to-day activities keep people busy by creating social distances. Suicide murder plays a significant role in fanning his project. When exploring the life of his neighbors through regular sleep-overs, the author is surprised by how people are physically connected in a busy suburb but socially distanced.
One of the first neighbors to honor Lovenheim’s request is Mr. Lou, an aging retired and widowed surgeon. The author spends a night at the home where they share experiences before spending the day at the place where Lou socializes with his friends. On arrival at the venue, Lovenheim is surprised to learn that Lou’s friends hail him as a jovial and an outgoing person. Lou’s happiness is only valid for a few hours. Whenever he leaves his friends’ company, he is embraced by solitude and loneliness in his house. Neighbors are busy with their daily routines. This is an indication of how social class distances people. Additionally, in a suburb upper class, people have lost a sense of trust and accommodation.
Grace, an old woman of ninety years, is another non-fictional character in Lovenheim’s project. She tells the Lovenheim how she fell in one of the streets, crawled to her home and drove to an emergency hospital for medical attention. This is another surprising aspect of this suburb. One is left wondering whether it can be called a neighborhood because an old woman can sustain an accident and crawl across the street without people noticing.
Lovenheim’s project of understanding the Rochester community has significant implications for the Rochester community and the overall American neighborhoods. I would recommend anyone interested in understanding the impact of social distances to read this book. One of my discoveries from Lovenheim’s project is that people have stories to tell, but they do not have a person to trust with their stories. In this age of social media where a person can comfortably boast of more than five thousand followers, I would pose a similar question to a person intending to read this book: Do you know your neighbor? You can find the answer to this question by accessing Lovenheim’s book and flipping through a few pages.
I think that Lovenheim’s book is not only crucial for understanding social distances and their impact on communities, but also for understanding how social classes isolate us from our neighbors. People in middle and upper classes tend to avoid those in lower classes, but it is the people in lower classes that make lasting friendships. They are the people we pass without greeting in our streets. Counterparts in upper levels are busy on their jobs, hardly finding time for social interactions. I am convinced that after you read this book, you will question your relationship with your neighbors. A simple “Hi” is enough to get the conversation going. I wish you could start today.
Lovenhein, P. (2010). In the neighborhood: The search for the community on an American street, one sleepover at a time. New York: Penguin Publishing Group. Google Book.