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September 21, 2018

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Cara Sue Achterberg: We're All Just Practicing Normal

August 23, 2018



I live on a rural street. My neighbors are measured by miles, not feet. We have plenty of “head cases” (my husband’s term) out here. Paranoia, gun ownership, and chicken-keeping run high.


There have been lots of times when my children have said, “I wish we lived in a real neighborhood,” especially when they can find no one to play with beyond their siblings on a snow day. When they lament the lack of neighbors, I try to assure them they aren’t missing anything. And we have woods and streams and horses and fresh tomatoes!


Despite all those benefits, I have wondered how our lives would be different if we lived in a traditional neighborhood; I’ve indulged plenty of ‘what-if’ scenarios about life with matching vinyl siding, impromptu cookouts, and built-in community that comes from sharing lawns and bus stops.




Practicing Normal grew out of those what-ifs and the certainty that no matter who our neighbors are or what kind of houses are on our street, we can never know what is happening behind closed doors. Even when the doors cost a lot of money and carry prestige.


My original plan for the novel was to explore a group of four or five families, but as I got to know the Turners, I couldn’t look away. Jenna gives us peeks into some of the neighbor’s homes and hearts, but the real question becomes do we know w