Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The Millers and the Stones live in apartments across a hallway from each other. The two couples appear to have lives fundamentally alike. Bill and Arlene Miller, however, feel they are missing out on the better things in life. They believe that the Stones’ lives are more satisfying, more exciting, than theirs. The Millers particularly envy the fact that the Stones frequently socialize and travel. When the Stones leave on a ten-day trip, they ask the Millers to care for their plants and cat. In the few days after the Stones depart, both Bill and Arlene are transformed by their explorations of the Stones’ home.
The responsibility of caring for the Stones’ household becomes an opportunity to take over their possessions, to occupy the spaces of their most private lives, to become the Stones. During the first evening of the Stones’ absence, Bill Miller enters their domain, delights in its very air, ogles at their ordinary treasures, pockets a bottle of Harriet’s prescription medicine, swigs their Chivas Regal, and stakes a strangely thrilling proprietary claim on their way of life.
Bill’s initial incursion into the Stones’ world arouses his sexual energy and leads him to break his own routines at home and at work. During a second visit to his neighbors’ apartment the next day, Bill rummages through their cupboards, refrigerator, and bedroom. He takes a pack of cigarettes before he is interrupted by his wife, who is sharply curious...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Neighbors” is one of the most puzzling and shocking stories in Carver’s collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? It focuses on Bill and Arlene Miller, a young couple who feel that the lives of their neighbors Harriet and Jim Stone are somehow brighter and fuller than their own. The story begins when the Stones go on a trip and ask the Millers to look after their apartment and water the plants. When Bill begins routinely to perform this task, however, his visits to the apartment make him sexually aroused. Moreover, he begins to stay longer and longer in the apartment, taking trivial things such as cigarettes and a container of pills, and nibbling food from the refrigerator.
Bill’s fascination with the apartment becomes more bizarre when he secretly takes time off from work and slips in to spend the day alone there. He first tries on a pair of Bermuda shorts belonging to Jim Stone, then a brassiere and pair of panties belonging to Harriet. The story comes to a climax that evening when his wife goes over to the apartment and the reader discovers that she is similarly fascinated, telling her husband that she found some pictures in a drawer. Although the reader is not told what kind of pictures they are, one may assume they depict the secret life of the Stones. When the couple go back across the hall to their own apartment, they consider that maybe the Stones will not come back. When they discover that they have locked the key to the...
(The entire section is 563 words.)