Good Neighbors (Pages 13-21)

News of a scandal involving Walter Berglund and his shady business practices comes as a surprise to the Ramsey Hill community in St. Paul, Minnesota. Walter had always been both incredibly moral and concerned about the environment (his scandal involved corruption with the coal industry). Still, when the Ramsey Hill community reflects back, not everything about the Berglunds was as picture-perfect as it might seem. The story flashes back to the early days of Ramsey Hill when Walter and his wife, Patty, first move to the neighborhood.

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In a way, the Berglunds are the forefront of a gentrification movement in Ramsey Hill. They buy an old Victorian house in an otherwise disreputable neighborhood and then slowly and meticulously renovate it. As a young mother to two children, Joe and Jessica, Patty becomes an integral social force in the neighborhood. She seems unfazed by the rougher constituency in her neighborhood, and her friendliness helps her ongoing efforts to improve the community. As more and more people move to Ramsey Hill (and continue its collective renovation), Patty befriends them and helps out whenever she can. Patty finds it nearly impossible to speak ill of any of her neighbors, instead preferring to make self-deprecating comments. Patty’s closed-mouth approach to neighborly relations includes even Carol Monaghan, the last remnant of pre-gentrified Ramsey Hill. Carol is a trashy single mother whose existence is partially funded by the public figure who fathered her daughter, Connie; he continues to pay Carol to prevent his family from discovering his indiscretion. Patty regularly babysits Connie, and overlooks Carol’s overt flirtations with Walter. Patty was once an athlete, before a career-ending injury. She hails from New York, where her mother is a state assemblywoman; however, Patty rarely speaks of them and does not seem to leave St. Paul to visit them or anyone else.

Instead, Patty invests all of her energy in her children. As the children begin to grow up (in the 1980s and 1990s), Jessica develops into a well-rounded girl who succeeds in most of her endeavors. Unfortunately, Patty dotes on Joey—sometimes at the expense of Jessica. From an early age, Joe is a precocious child, and Patty finds his difficult nature charming instead of trying to correct it. Joe regularly contests his parent’s authority, starting from a young age, which Patty complains and brags about in equal measure. The consensus in the neighborhood is that Patty is too permissive and Walter’s intense work schedule keeps him away from the home too much to allow him to intervene.

Good Neighbors (Pages 22-34)

Merrie Paulson prides herself on being the one person in the neighborhood who sees through Patty’s warm exterior. A decade older than the Berglunds, Merrie frequently reminds her husband, Seth, of Patty’s shortcomings. This becomes especially important to her when she registers that Seth finds Patty attractive. Frequently after Patty stops by, Merrie will find something critical to say about Patty. By the late 1990s, the kids grow up, and Joey becomes increasingly resistant to authority, especially his father’s. Walter is beside himself when Joey gets in trouble for selling marked-up watches at school, especially when the boy’s only regret is that his newfound income has been halted. Patty finds Joey’s resistance humorous, and Merrie notes Patty’s tendency to turn a blind eye to her son’s faults. For example, as teenagers, Joey and Connie Monaghan begin a sexual relationship. Despite the fact that Patty still watches Connie while her mother, Carol, is at work, Patty does not observe Connie’s doting on Joey.

Patty doesn’t catch wind of Joey’s relationship with Connie until Walter’s mother falls ill. When the old woman collapses and has to be hospitalized, Joey throws an orgiastic party at the house, much to Jessica’s chagrin. When their parents return, Patty learns of some of her son’s activities and promptly blames Connie and her mother,...

(The entire section is 18,524 words.)