Gertie and Arlo Wilde moved to Maple Street in Long Island, an affluent suburban neighborhood they thought would be a great place for their two children to be raised and they themselves could achieve more respectability. He’s a former rock star and junkie and she’s a beauty queen, pregnant with their third child. Their reception was cool until next door neighbor Rhea Schroeder, the alpha female in the community, befriends Gertie. Their daughters, Shelly and Julie, become best friends, that is until Rhea distances herself from Gertie after sharing a confidence in a moment of vulnerability. She misinterprets Gertie’s reaction and decides to ostracize the family, knowing the others in the neighborhood will also, including her daughter Shelly. When a sinkhole opens up in the park, it becomes an omen of far worse things to come.
I hope I can do this justice as it was one of the more disturbing stories I’ve read in a long while. Rhea’s behavior is typical of many in cliquish communities where a Queen Bee can help you fit in or forever banish you to the sidelines. When her daughter Shelly forces a violent confrontation with Julia, their final interaction sheds light on her troubled family before Shelly falls into that sinkhole. What comes next is a powerful illustration of the human condition, exacerbated by the destructive forces of social media and mob mentality. I kept thinking of how allegorical this situation was given the similarities to our current societal states. The children adopt the viewpoints of their parents until they witness the wreckage and then find themselves powerless to stop or redirect the consequences. But it’s the children who eventually have the final word in a moving scene near the end. These events are set in the year 2027 but revisited years later by journalists who interview the residents about what happened that summer.
There are so many layers to this story, making it impossible to adequately convey in summary. I found it entertaining until it wasn’t, comical until it transitioned and became painful, light until it turned very, very dark. I’m not sure why the author set it in the future but I suspect that it is a warning that if we don’t make serious institutional changes we are destined to continue on this miserable course. Rhea is a complex character with a tragic background that guides everything she does behind a veneer that hides her true nature. Gertie comes across like the stereotypical beautiful woman that doesn’t run deep but is more astute than most in that neighborhood. I found both of these women fascinating with more in common than either could ever know. What happened on Maple Street is just a symbol of what could happen in neighborhoods everywhere.
I’m glad I listened to this book because the narrator delivered an outstanding performance in completely capturing the essences of the pivotal characters. I loved her depiction of Gertie as I could picture her vividly and Rhea whose craziness almost sounded sane, which was her genius. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Maple Street and all it represents. When I finished, I sought out an interview with the author to ensure I was getting the intended messages (I was!) and highly recommend reading it after you finish. This is a serious, thought provoking story that will probably stay with me forever.
- Release Date: February 2, 2021
- Narrator: Nicole Lewis
- Audio Length: 10 hours, 11 minutes
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
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(Thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for my complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.)