Read Or Run: A Review Of The Couple Next Door By Shari Lapena

Read Or Run: A Review Of The Couple Next Door By Shari Lapena

A harrowing tale of a stolen baby or a flop of a mystery novel? You decide.

Recently, I joined a book club. Why? I don't know, but I did it and I read the book — kind of.

"The Couple Next Door" is an extremely well-reviewed book by Shari Lapena. I thought it was going to be a mystery novel like something out of Agatha Christie with Hercule Poirot. Let me tell you, Detective Rasbach is no Poirot.

This will contain spoilers.

Lapena sets up the scene immediately, right out the gate. I feel like the first few pages are incredibly overwhelming with their direct-action scenes. The main character is drinking. She's looking, feeling, touching, observing. The reader doesn't have much time to drink in the scene and get a grasp on where she is and why she's there. It's, in the ever immortal words of Teen Mom, too much too soon. We don't get to fully grasp what's happening between the post-pregnancy character of Anne Conti.

I hate to attribute her recent pregnancy as her only characteristic but, unfortunately, that's what Lapena makes the center of her universe. But that's normal for new moms and probably the only relatable thing about this entire character.

Anne and her husband, Marco Conti, are a young couple living in New York with a six-month-old baby girl named Cora. They're at their next-door neighbor's house, Cynthia and Graham, having a dinner party for Graham's birthday. Cynthia had requested that the Contis leave their baby behind as the crying would interrupt their dinner. When a babysitter unexpectedly cancels, Marco somehow convinces the brand-new helicopter mom that is was okay to leave their baby home alone. Somehow. He also convinces her that it's a good idea to drink. And that they should take turns every 30 minutes to check on Cora rather than ask Cynthia if they can just bring Cora with them.

Whatever. Super relatable.

After Marco and Anne have a fight without actually having a fight (a feat every couple somehow manages to learn), they turn around and head home, sufficiently drunk, to their front door unlocked and left open.

"Maybe you forgot to lock it, you've had a lot to drink," Marco says to Anne while the audience wants to hit him. What a particularly terrible thing to say. Of course, I think it's a particularly terrible to be new parents to a six-month-old baby and to leave her and home while getting drunk but, what do I know? I'm not a parent.

The couple discover their daughter is missing and run frantically about the house looking for her. For some inexplicable reason, Lapena has Anne hit their bathroom mirror and break it. This action isn't sufficiently explained, or explained at all.

Before the readers can really get into the heads of the Conti's and watch them unravel, the police are on the scene and it switches to the viewpoint of the Detective Rasbach.

Rasbach is one of those characters that is so little described, he seems like a prop. There are no descriptions about him, really. The readers don't get a sense of who he is and what he's about. In some novels, this allows the readers to step in and fill the shoes of the detective; in a way, these novels break down the fourth wall. Unfortunately, this is not Lapena's specialty. Her lack of characterization of Rasbach makes him cold and impersonal — and not in the same way that detectives such as Sherlock Holmes is cold and impersonal.

The best way to describe Rasbach's investigation is dull. He talks to old friends, he talks to neighbors, he talks to potential witnesses. The whole thing reads like a police procedural manual. He suspects the husband and wife because the wife has postpartum depression and the husband owns a business. The husband is a suspect because he owns a business. The police don't know the financial records of said business until after they already suspect the husband.

Backwards.

After about reading a third of the way through the book, I found my attention slipping. I knew that A, B and C would happen and then we would see X result. Then, three chapters later, A, B and C would happen again and then X would, yet again be the result.

One thing I think is the mark of a good book is if you skip forward far enough, you have no idea what's going on. I tried this trick with "The Couple Next Door" and found that not only did I still understand what was going on, I hadn't really missed any information. So, I skipped to the end and found that I still understood all of it.

If this novel had ended with an examination of why parents may make what we perceive to be dumb decisions as non-parents and how one small mistake can upend lives, that would have possibly redeemed the entire novel. But, alas, it didn't. The last three pages were a completely out of context, over the top, you-can-see-it-a-mile-away type ending.

All in all, this book had some good points. The foundation was laid well, but the walls were just built kind of funky.

Of course, Anne's parents happen to be millionaires that can afford to pay $5 million and then an extra $2 million in ransom for their grandchild. Of course, Cynthia likes to flirt with every many she sees. Of course, Marco's small business is in trouble. Of course Anne's parent's hate Marco. There's just so many "of course" moments while reading this novel.

I just didn't think the actions of the Contis or Richard, the step-father, were relatable in any form. Who gives a baby to someone they've known for, what, three days? A loon. If Marco had gotten a friend to help him with his scheme at least that would have been believable.

They never even explain why the accomplice was killed.

I would rate "The Couple Next Door" three out of ten stars and I don't feel bad about it.

Cover Image Credit: Love What You Read

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What the F*&%?!

Cursing is highly controversial in today's society, but my question is, why?

Have you ever been in a heated argument with someone and they suddenly drop the F-bomb on you? As soon as that one word is said, the argument immediately takes a turn for the worst because now you are no longer angry about the topic of the argument, but you are angry that someone had the nerve to speak to you in such a way. I find it particularly amazing that a single word could evoke such emotions. An F-bomb, along with its cousin words $!*t, @*$, #%^!! (you get the gist of it) are like the ticking time bombs of the English language. Now I'm not here to justify or judge cursing in anyway. I simply aim to propose a possibly controversial question: Why the bleep do we give cursing so much bleeping power?

Growing up, I was exposed to two very different views on cursing. I have a parent who completely despises the idea of a curse-friendly vocabulary, calling the forbidden words "dirty" and "ugly". On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is my parent who sees no harm in using a curse word here and there, or in every sentence. The funny thing is, no matter their perspective on cursing, neither of them would approve of that kind of language from my lips. I understand that it is only a matter of respect and, consequently, would never dream of uttering a single curse word while in their presence. At the same time, I still question why it would be so awful for me to let one slip if I were to stub my toe or drop a glass. It is just a word, isn't it?

Words can be extremely powerful. Being a writer, I am very much aware of that. However, I still cannot understand the power of a curse word. When certain letters are placed in a distinct order, the word is formed and becomes a force that can easily explode into an argument just as quickly as it can end one. Yet, take away a few letters and replace them with symbols such as @ and #, and it becomes okay. Replace a person's voice with a high pitched beeping sound and it is like the word was never said. Why? We all still know what the symbols are meant to spell and how the bleep had originally sounded. Somehow we are led to believe that just because we can neither see nor hear it, it loses its strength and meaning. If that is true, then why not say you love someone less when you can't hear the words "I love you".

I suppose our ongoing dispute with curse words is due to the way we were raised. Children should not curse. Cursing is bad and it's disrespectful. Adults, on the other hand, can curse. For that, we can say that cursing is equal to the consumption of alcohol; it's an adult thing. Like all "adult things", it will make its way to teenagers. Still being a teen myself (although I'd like to think I'm an adult), I am no stranger to how often the average teen will curse. However, most of the time, they aren't cursing to pick a fight or sound angry. They are just talking. That big, bad curse word that five-year-old self you used to become a tattletale for is now just a word you say when joking around with your friends. I've noticed that adults also use curse words as if they were always meant to be harmless. I can see the elders cringing and shaking their heads in disappointment when they hear the extensive vocabulary being used so carelessly.

Like I have already mentioned, I am neither for nor against the use of curse words. I simply don't understand them. We can speak them, but can't see or hear them? It can be used as an insult and equally as a friendly greeting? How can it be so powerful and meaningless at the same time? I won't pretend to know it all. Instead, I shall leave it up to you to determine what the f*&% cursing is really about!

Cover Image Credit: Content Time

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Advice Every 20 Year Old Needs to Hear

Your 20s is your peak; the prime time to figure out what the next step in your life will be.

You have to hustle between finishing your higher education and jump-starting your career. There’s a lot of pressure coming from your family, your peers, and most importantly, the pressure you put on yourself to become the absolute best.

Yet, it’s so easy to get lost in all the desires to be instantly successful and recognized. But in an era where everyone is trying to achieve the same thing, instant gratification is not the way to make it in the long term. I know it’s tempting to appear to be #blessed by donning Cartier bracelets worth your entire college tuition fees. Maybe you long to buy yourself a Range Rover and customize it with extravagant decors, but let’s be real, normal people don’t really live like that.

As a 20-something fresh graduate, I know how difficult and scary it is to start this chapter in our lives. I was overwhelmed by anxiety and so ridiculously afraid of making mistakes. On the other hand, my yearning to emulate the Kardashians and the Jenners, like many millennials these days, sidetracked me. It made me focus on the wrong reasons as to why I strive to be successful. Sure, being well-known for your successes and have the riches as proof can be great. Be that as it may, if you’re not happy and content when you go to bed at night, you need to retrace your steps.

Based on the advice given by entrepreneur and marketing expert, Gary Vaynerchuk here, this article is for you, my fellow, struggling, 20 year olds who’s trying to make it in this harsh, superficial, digitally-driven world.

Explore your options

Being cautious can have its advantages but you can utilize your youth to explore different paths. Flirt with different ideas and reach outside your comfort zone. If you don’t consider all the options that you want to do, the thought of ‘what if’ can be crippling. It will prevent you from reaching your highest potential. There are so many young adults in their early 20s that are unhappy with where their life is going due to pressure from parents and family members. Don’t punish yourself by doing something you know you won’t enjoy doing for 10+ years. Take your time to find something that you do love and are passionate about. If you want to explore the world before settling down, go for it. Or if you want to start your own startup company, just do it. Pursue what you want to do and ignore what others have to say.

Never look at others’ successes

Do not ever compare yourself with others. You might see other millennials hit important milestones early in their 20s but always remember that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do at their own paces. Of course, through social media, it’s easier to highlight one’s material achievements. However, those Instagram posts from ‘rich kids’ are just shallow portrayals of superfluous successes.

When you compare your successes to others, this can deter your motivation and you may have a hard time bouncing back from the rut. The jealousy and envy is toxic. Every second you spend on thinking about what somebody else has achieved is taking away the time you can use to create something out of yourself. Channel that energy to motivate yourself to do better and beat your previous accomplishments. We are our greatest competitions after all.

Prepare to make sacrifices

Be willing to sacrifice weekend hangouts or pub crawls with your besties. The time for entertainment can be used to better yourself, your career, and your life as a whole. The time spent chilling with friends every afternoon is likely to be reduced to just a weekend brunch or a quick dinner. Get ready to spend those free times by doing work to meet deadlines.

With that being said, since it’s your 20s after all, life can often be forgiving. The sacrifices you make doesn’t have to be drastic; it can be small yet impactful. Know how to balance out your responsibilities with your leisure time. The quick dinners and weekend brunches with friends might seem short, but as long as you keep thinking of these times as a reward after all the work you did, then you’re good to go.

Set a realistic goal

You want to be a millionaire by the time you’re 25? Good luck because you’ll be needing all of it. All those people on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list have been working their asses off before they were even legal. Some became millionaires because of pure luck or their fortunes were served on a silver platter. Rather than focusing your energy to become extremely rich, steer your attention towards enriching your life instead. Like said before, your 20s is your prime. It’s the perfect time to explore and experience new things. But it doesn’t mean you can let go of all responsibilities and ignore the consequences. It’s okay to dream big, but when exploring those paths, set a realistic and beneficial goal that you can actually see yourself achieving. 

Enjoy the grind

At the end of the day, whatever you’re doing to achieve success should be enjoyable. Embrace the journey of getting there; no matter where ‘there’ is.  Even if you have to flip burgers at a fast food joint to make ends meet or cater demanding clients, you must find joy in the smallest thing to avoid discouragement and resentment. The journey is always more essential than the destination. On your way up, you can learn critical skills and knowledge that you can use in the long run. Getting to the top instantaneously can leave you empty as it allows you to do less enriching work. Knowing that you’ve put in 110% into everything is enough to fill you with joy and keep you motivated.

Love your battle scars

Recognize all your failures and welcome it with a positive mindset. All our mistakes and failures will open new doors that can lead to something greater. Never ever be too hard on yourself if you get rejected from that prestigious master’s program or if you’ve been turned down from the perfect job position. Never be afraid of failure because you know that you gave it your all. These minor setbacks could propel you further in your career. “The universe will unfold as it should.” Keep this mantra close through thick and thin. It can reassure you that no matter what obstacles you’re facing, it can lead to greater and better things, and all your failures will make you who you are today.

Slow & steady wins the race

Your 20s is the moment to practice your patience. Slowly work your way up your career ladder or save money for that big solo trip you’ve always dreamed of. Know that nothing can be achieved overnight. You must dedicate time and effort, sometimes for years, before you can see results. You may see a lot of hares out there who have achieved great things early on in their 20s but fret not, with constant hard work and dedication, tortoises always reach the finish line no matter how long it takes.

Reflect from time to time 

When push comes to shove, always come back to yourself and reflect. Always ask yourself who are you doing all this for? What does success mean to you? The answer should always benefit you and yourself alone and not for any other reasons. To obtain happiness is, of course, the ultimate reason why you should do anything. Other reasons like to make your parents proud or to pay off those student loans can also help to drive you forward. If you sense that I’m beginning to lose grasps on why you should live a productive life, look for motivation elsewhere. I often read the prose Desiderata by Max Ehrmann that teaches you how to live, not just your 20s, but your entire life, positively and happily. Regular reflections can keep you grounded and in check with your ideals.

Don’t beat yourself up

Whatever your goals may be and whatever your idea of success is, be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t hold yourself accountable for arbitrary fantasies. Bear in mind that everyone’s journey is different. No matter what your goal is and no matter how you’re going to achieve that, be sure to savor this time. There will be less room in your 30s and 40s to make mistakes and redeem yourself. There’s a reason why there are so many articles out there calling your 20s as the worst, hardest period yet your most important decade. This decade is forgiving; it forgives all your failures and the wrong choices made. All in all, whatever you decide to do with your 20s, strive to make the most of it by keeping true to your goals and your principles.

Febriana Ramadhanya is currently writing as an English Editorial Content Writer for a Malaysian-based price comparison website, iPrice Group. She’s also still getting used to (weirdly) referring to herself in third person. For more lifestyle articles please visit iPrice Group 

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