Dear Reader: a letter from Shari Lapena
When I wrote The Couple Next Door, I deliberately wanted to tap into what has to be every parent’s worst nightmare – the loss of your child, or causing irreparable harm to your own child through some small act of neglect or lack of vigilance. You turn away for a moment, and your child is gone. I experienced just such an episode of panic when my six-year-old son slipped away from my husband at a packed neighbourhood event – the Taste of the Danforth – that attracts over a million people in a weekend. The police were on it immediately. My husband called me, and I ran there straight away, not even stopping to put on shoes. You wouldn’t believe what went through my mind. He was missing for a good twenty minutes. The police finally found him at an ice-cream truck, but not before my mind had visited some very dark places.
The subject seems to resonate with readers – everywhere I go, someone has a similar story. I was actually told about a couple who left their child at home a few houses away, relying on the baby monitor, and the host of the dinner rushed all the guests through the meal so the parents would go home to their child!
I think the book resonates with readers because the only thing that could possibly be worse than losing your child would be losing your child through some fault of your own. Today, the standard of care expected of parents seems to be much higher than it was a generation ago. Children don’t walk to school alone in kindergarten, or play by themselves on the street until the streetlights go on anymore. We carry an enormous burden of responsibility as parents. At the same time, parents seem to be so overextended, often with both adults working, and we have very busy lives. So parents get tired; we make mistakes. Or we take a small chance – what could possibly happen? We hold ourselves to such a high standard as parents, and we’re all pretty much exhausted. I think we are all terrified of making a mistake, so I hope readers will be naturally riveted by the story of a couple who take a seemingly innocent shortcut when the babysitter cancels.
Of course, there’s more to the story in The Couple Next Door than that. There is the other question – how well do you know your partner? How well do you ever really know the person you’re living with, and sleeping with? So much of what we really think and feel we never reveal, even to those closest to us. We don’t even admit things to ourselves. But when people are under intense stress, sometimes their true selves are revealed.
That’s what I like to do in my fiction. Take ordinary, everyday people – they could be you, or your neighbour – in fairly ordinary circumstances, put them under some extraordinary pressure and see what happens, and what they reveal about themselves.
I hope you enjoy reading The Couple Next Door. I certainly enjoyed writing it.