There is a darkness behind these ordinary lives, a violence waiting to surface at a moment's notice. These seeming innocents can explode into brutal assaults on their rivals; they have no compunctions about random attacks and thievery. They try to care for a damaged wild child, but they make all the wrong choices, keeping her isolated in their hidden bunker as a kind of carefully tended plaything.
Although, with Kiesbye's portrayal of violence, Next Door Lived a Girl would not be a book for every reader, his sense that a cold brutality lies beneath the surface of everyday life makes this little book genuinely disturbing. When the violence surfaces here, it is indeed shocking, but it also seems, as Charles Baxter has noted, inevitable. That I respond that way makes me question my own platitudes again.
Stefan Kiesbye reads from Next Door Lived a Girl at the Ladies' Literary Club in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, January 12.
[Originally published in January, 2005.]