NARROW’S GATE appealed to me because I looked forward to reading another Fusilli book and because the setting and characters struck a chord. NARROWS GATE is set in the 40’s and 50’s in an Italian-American community controlled by the Mafia even though no such entity exists. Amazon has more that thirty customer reviews for the book so there is definitely no need for another. The reviews give an accurate summary of the mores and ties that exist in such a community.
Irish though I am, I got an outsider’s view of the inside of a similar community in the 1970’s. I taught for six years in a girls’ high school in an Italian-American community with its own mores and its ties to something that was unseen but definitely present. The school population was made up of girls from the neighborhood and they were split into two very different groups. One group consisted of recent immigrants or were the American-born daughters of immigrants. Italian was the first language of these girls; they were very sheltered and were not allowed to leave the neighborhood without a chaperone. Some of these girls were going to enter into arranged marriages when they left school. The other group came from families who had lived in the community for a few generations. They were not sheltered from much of anything.
Another group came from two Irish-American neighborhoods. They were refugees from court-ordered busing, the insanity that destroyed the Boston Public Schools. They were from a different world entirely, a world that wasn’t necessarily good, but it was different. The fourth group came from another largely Italian community and it was from this group that the princesses came.
The community in NARROW’S GATE were Sicilian. The community in which I taught was very small geographically but it had five Catholic parishes and elementary schools. Each was established by immigrants from different regions; old-world insularity traveled well. The high school offered Italian as one of the required foreign languages. The local girls signed on to that one because they already spoke Italian. What could be easier? Then they discovered they spoke dialect and they couldn’t understand each other.
Parking, driving, near the school was a nightmare so I used public transportation, necessitating a walk both ways on the main street. At the end of the first week, three older men stopped me to offer their assistance. They said they had seen me walking around for a few days and they were concerned that I was lost. I told them I was at the school, they wished me a nice day, and my presence was never questioned again. I knew, too, that I could be walking alone at 2:00 am and I would be safe. I had been approved.
My girls were fun to work with. At that point, college wasn’t on anyone’s radar. They knew their world and they weren’t looking to change it. Most of the girls were low income. Their father’s collected social security disability or received veterans’ aid. Their daughters wore gold jewelry that cost more than a year’s worth of disability checks but that was irrelevant. As much as I liked and enjoyed the girls, I couldn’t avoid our very different moral codes. I was constantly being offered luxury items at rock bottom prices, things that had fallen out of a truck. I said “no”. They said “no offense” and we continued on.
There was a Coast Guard station in the vicinity. One summer, a sailor was brutally murdered, killed by two local brothers who took exception to his race. They were arrested quickly and about 18 months later they went on trial. Their sister and four of their cousins were in my classes. The girls were being called as witnesses to the fact that the young men had been at a family birthday party a hundred miles away. The girls knew the definition of perjury and they were open about the willingness to lie under oath. They did not understand how I could think it was wrong. They were simply taking care of family business. They were acquitted. A year later they were killed because they skimmed some money from a poker game. That was the excuse. They were sentenced to death not because they had killed the sailor but because they had brought unwanted attention to the community.
Fiction about the people in a crime family is like an operatic tragedy but in real life the tragedy lies in the amoral view of some lives being too inconvenient to be allowed to continue. One of the princesses from the other Italian-American community was a sweet, charming, teenager who adored her family, especially her father. Her parents were just as charming, always ready and willing to do anything for the school. In her world, the fathers didn’t collect veterans’ aid. They were businessmen, respectable. The women knew nothing about the manner in which their husbands provided them with the best of everything. Like their mothers, they didn’t ask questions. My lovely princess didn’t know that her father was third from the top in the local mob.
NARROW’S GATE fits well into the Godfather genre. I liked the book and recommend it. Unfortunately, I know too much about truth upon which the fiction is based.
That area is no longer what it was in the 70’s. When the value of property entered into the realm of fiction, the immigrant families had to move out. The businesses diversified and the connected families moved to the leafy suburbs. The area has been sanitized and, inthe process, the neighborhood is as authentically Italian as the one at Epcot. But somewhere, business is going on as usual.
I hope the author has another book coming soon.