Travis M. Riddle delivers a dark and creepy exploration into the memory of place and friendship in The Narrows.
I actually read The Narrows as part of my Spooky Reads back in October. As
sometimes *often* happens with me one thing led to another and I am just now getting to write-up this review. But maybe it’s fitting since the book is set around Christmas. Thankfully I took notes as I read.
“Oliver and his friends have returned to their hometown of Shumard, Texas for the funeral of their close friend Noah. They each grapple with the loss in their own ways, trying to understand the strange circumstances of their friend’s unexpected death.
While visiting the site where the body was found, Oliver stumbles across a chilling discovery that he knows must be related to what happened to Noah. Wanting to protect his friends from these newfound horrors, Oliver takes it upon himself to venture into the grotesque otherworld known as the Narrows to learn what happened to his friend and find a way to bring him back.
Entering the Narrows is one thing, but will whatever he finds there allow him to leave?” – Goodreads Blurb
The Narrows is told from a single point of view; that of Oliver. He has just returned home for the funeral of his childhood best friend Noah who was recently found dead in his car. Nobody knows why or even knew Noah was in town. Oliver has a lot of unprocessed anger and resentment toward his old friend because of the way they drifted apart after high school. As Oliver begins to unpack his thoughts and feelings he becomes aware of something off in his hometown, something supernatural, an alternate world hidden behind a veil in reality. When Noah passes through that veil he discovers a chilling secret and perhaps an explanation for what happened to his friend.
While Oliver tries to figure out the secret horrors of The Narrows he simultaneously struggles with the events of the past. The book alternates between Oliver’s past memories of his friends growing up, time in college, early adulthood, and specifically the way he and Noah drifted apart. It’s obvious Oliver has been holding on to these feelings for a while but now it’s too late to talk to Noah about them because he’s gone. Oliver must sift through not just his sadness at his friend’s death but his anger; anger about the past and anger that Noah’s gone. All of this drives him to find out the truth about what is going on in his town, in The Narrows, and about his friend’s death.
What struck me almost immediately during my read of The Narrows was it’s sense of place and friendship. Specifically the sense of place and friendship in one’s memory. You know that old adage, “you can never go home again?” The idea that once you leave a place for an extended period of time everything is different when you come back? All the changes that happened in the intervening time serve to cut you off from that place in such a way that it never feels right again; it will always feel wrong. That’s exactly what Oliver is feeling and going through and the reader is taken down that path with him as he tries to navigate his way back to some sense of normalcy. Yet the past can’t be brought into the future and memory is painful when there is no closure.
Riddle brings that sense of place and friendship to the fore in familiar ways. The Narrows is set in Texas but I felt like it could have been describing my hometown in North West Florida, right down to the Waffle House the characters love to eat at. In fact the story starts in a Waffle House as the characters arrive back in town and head out for a bite to eat. If you’ve never eaten at a Waffle House I don’t know that I can adequately describe the experience in this review, but Riddle brought it all home to me. I felt just like I was there with a group of friends eating greasy diner food and drinking coffee after a night of doing nothing. And in that opening scene I could already feel the longing Oliver has for things to be the way they used to be. Riddle latches onto the familiar feelings and regrets all of us have about old friends and hometowns and uses that to set a tone and mood for the entire book. He then takes that tone and mood and goes a little darker with it.
I’ve seen a number of reviewers compare The Narrows to Stranger Things. I don’t know if that’s an apt comparison or not because <ducks head sheepishly> I’ve only watched a few episodes of season 1 of Stranger Things. You can yell at me later. What I CAN say is The Narrows is definitely creepy and dark. In fact I did say that up at the top. Once Oliver begins to get a sense of The Narrows that mood gets ratcheted up. It gets darker and darker as he explores this alternate reality and realizes just how much everyone may be in danger. His one glimmer of hope is that just maybe he can bring his dead friend back from the other side.
The Narrows isn’t a terrifying book. I label it as supernatural and horror, but like many horror novels it doesn’t scare the pants off you. Instead it takes a theme and explores the darker side of our mind’s thoughts about it. That being said, I was hoping the book would have frightened me a little more. At 256 pages this isn’t a long book and there was definitely the potential for more to be done in this regard without making it overly dense. All the elements were there and Riddle did go down that path, but by the end I felt we’d taken a short-cut, that he’d spared us the long way through the neighborhood so to speak.
When I first finished the book I wasn’t sure what to make of the ending. It felt a little unsettled. After having sat on it a while between my reading of it and this review I’ve come to realize the end does fit. I won’t give it away except to say Riddle sticks with that theme of place and friendship and whether you can ever really go home again. In the end perhaps the horror of the story isn’t in whether it terrifies you, but rather in whether it leaves you in that unsettled place wondering if things can ever be the same again.
3.5 of 5 Stars
Author: Travis M. Riddle
Series: Stand Alone
Publication Date: October 23, 2018
Pages: 256 (in paperback form)