Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Narrows Gate

Narrows Gate, by Jim Fusilli.

Still stunned and confused, Benno was struck by the weighty silence in the apartment. He could've used some noise to block his thoughts. Every week there were funerals at St. Francis. You heard the bells in the classroom, you could smell the incense, then here comes the casket. People died; old, young, sick, accidents, killed tripping and falling under trolley wheels. It happens. You shrug when you heard that the crew chained up a guy and threw him off a bridge, blew another guy's brains out the top of his head. After a while you thought it's nothing, somebody dying. But it ain't nothing.

Narrows Gate is a mob story that takes place during the time of World War II and beyond, and it reminded me a lot of The Godfather except with more characters with different personalities. There are so many characters, in fact, that the author makes a list of them at the beginning of the book, which is helpful in writing this review.

The main character is Bill "Bebe" Marsala, who grows up in Narrows Gate. His mother Hennie hears him singing one day, and realizes he has a gift. The Narrows Gate mob decides they are going to promote him, and he will sing in their joints. Soon, though, Bebe wants more exposure, and he ends up traveling all over the country to perform.

The other story going on at the same time is that of the mob itself and also of the friendship between Leo Bell and Sal Benno. Bell and Benno grow up together, but soon go their separate ways; Benno ends up working for the Narrows Gate mob as a driver and delivery boy, and Bell joins the FBI (or what it was called before it was the FBI), and soon they are investigating the mob. Bell says he will help them but tells them not to pull Benno in for questioning.

The story spans over a few years and we follow these boys from their youth in Narrows Gate until their 20s or 30s, I believe. Bebe marries Rosa, a girl he grew up with, but is fooling around with Eleanor Ree, a famous actress, on the side, and Bebe and Rosa eventually divorce, though they have a son (Bill Jr.) together. There are two distinct mob families that have a grudge against each other, and even though the list at the beginning helped, it was still a little confusing as to who belonged to which family.

The book would make a great movie a la The Godfather, in my opinion. The novel is published by Amazon Encore, which says "identifies exceptional yet overlooekd books and works with the authors to introduce or re-introduce their books to readers," which leads me to believe that Narrows Gate has been published before in the past. I liked the book overall, my chief complaint being its length (about 575 pages), but the story was definitely interesting. Jim Fusilli grew up in Hoboken, apparently, and "learned about the mob as a kid through hearing stories in the neighborhood, and later, from his work as a Teamster." He said:

"Hoboken was a rough town back then and I was a teamster when I was in college. The guys I worked with told stories of their childhood, which is the era in much of which the action of Narrows Gate takes place. They gave me a sense of what it was like."

I haven't read a ton of mob books, but out of the ones I have read, this ranks among the best, if you can get past the long page count.

Narrows Gate will be in bookstores on November 15th.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was given an Advance Readers Copy of this book to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

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