The Narrows by Ronald Malfi

Here I go again with yet another review that was long in the making. I swear, I’ll catch up on these things one day… I think. I don’t doubt that some of you guys are voracious readers like the crew here at DT, but let me just suggest that reading 7-10 books at a time is, well, it’s a friggin’ stupid idea.

Actually, that’s not always the case, as this is exactly  how I found out about Malfi back in 2thousandwhatever – so let me clarify: “Try” not to read everything in the world all at once. Pace yourself. Read just a few things at a time if you absolutely have to. But above all, if this book crosses your path, I suggest you move it to the top of the pile without hesitation. You can trust me. With book recommendations, that is. Not with your wallet, your food, or your women. Books only. K?

But just to throw my advice right out the goddamned window, I’m going to go ahead and do a double review here because not only did the publisher release Malfi’s The Narrows in September, they also threw a little surprise in for the fans. Samhain, still one of the main contenders in the I’m-the-king-of-the-castle contest our genre is currently playing at, also released a companion short story to go along with this piece – The Boy In The Lot.

So have at it, you ravenous bastards. A double review from yours truly. (I need sleep… please… zzzzzzzz)

The town of Stillwater has a very unwelcome resident.

The town of Stillwater has been dying – the long and painful death of a town ravaged by floods and haunted by the ghosts of all who had lived there. Yet this most recent flood has brought something with it – a creature that nests among the good folks of Stillwater… and feeds on them. The children who haven’t disappeared whisper the same word – “vampire.” But they’re wrong. What has come to Stillwater is something much more horrific.

– from samhainhorror.com

So here he goes again – Ronald Malfi – the man who always writes a story so damned captivating, so heartfelt, and so emotionally intense, that you cannot not resist the pull it has on your heartstrings and your soul. It also just so happens that Malfi can write a genuinely terrifying creature at the same time as playing your inner workings like a violin, bouncing his readers back and forth between emotions like they’re his own personal, life-sized Furbee… ugh… that magnificent bastard…

This is the third book of Malfi’s to leave me teary. The first of which was Floating Staircase, and the second was The Mourning House – a book you’ll be able to get your hands on very soon from DarkFuse. As for this one, its release was back in September, over in the Samhain camp, so it’s readily available if you’re looking for it. I mean when you’re looking for it. Cause seriously, this Malfi dude is someone to watch.

I feel like I’ve said that before. Oh yeah, because I have. Every time I review one of his damned books.

Oh well. Onward! Tally Ho!

BoyInTheLotThe72lgLike I said in the above psycho-babble, Samhain released The Boy In The Lot as a sort-of companion piece to The Narrows. In fact, it takes place in the same town, and is sort of a prelude to the terror that awaits readers in the following book.

Fear lives in Stillwater.

Eleven-year-old Mark Davis wasn’t happy at all that his family was moving to the small town of Stillwater. He worried that he’d miss his old friends and not be able to make new ones. But he’ll soon learn that was the least of his worries. Something deadly is waiting to welcome him to town.

– from samhainhorror.com

Malfi’s strong point, I think all of us can agree, is his fine tuned skill at taking someone who should be so easy to overlook, or easy to forget, and making them a part of our lives – someone we feel like we can know. This short, 12 or 13 page story does more for the modern short fare than most of the efforts out there these days.

First, you have no choice but to see a little bit of yourself in the main character, Mark Davis. His family has been uprooted, he’s left his friends behind, is looking for independence, and then BAM! he’s thrust in a Ron Malfi world, standing a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving.

In the small amount of time Malfi has to prepare his readers for the climax, which, by the way, is a mere 8 or so paragraphs, he’s sucked you in and owned your attention. It’s a damned shame that we haven’t seen this calibre of storytelling on the bookstore shelves lately.

We’re also introduced to the mythology and monsters to be found in the parent story to this teaser, but at the same time, Malfi doesn’t ruin a damned thing. In fact, he does an amazing job of making the reader want to chase this bastard down and get to the bottom of things, and introduces us to the small town of Stillwater.

cover_narrows

DarkFuse’s superior cover art by Daniele Serra

Enter Malfi’s new novel, The Narrows. While I don’t really have anything of interest to say about Samhain’s cover of this particular book (And I really want to, since I’m absolutely not a fan of it, don’t really understand how the image links to the story, and definitely don’t get the choice regarding the title font) the tale itself could definitely stand as one of the genre’s most incredible pieces and, in particular, a very important entry into a very popular, very over-used sub-genre that I won’t spoil because I know how damned rabid you horror junkies can be. (So watch me spoil things later on like the vicious meanie that I am!)
DarkFuse’s cover by the incredibly talented Daniele Serra captures the spirit and gloom that the novel presents, doesn’t hint at the subject matter inside, and completely blows Samhain’s cover out of the water. But then again, it seems that everything Serra touches turns to horror gold.

Malfi, like most notable authors in our beloved literary landscape, has absolutely no problem juggling intense story lines and life-likecharacters as if they were filled with a wonderful, yet oppressively terrifying helium of the fictional gods. When you think these folks are going to weave, they bob. And when you assume they’re going to bob, they saunter. It eventually comes to a point where you just stop guessing, and let the story flow around you, wading through the wonderful world that this author obviously has no problem creating. Where Floating Staircase comes at you with a creeping dread and ultimately places its snow-covered boot on your still beating blood pump at the end, The Narrows comes at you with… er… I guess… a creeping dread… but also eventually turns into a full-on heart-clenching ride of terror.

Again, as is always the case, this author displays his masterful ability to write about small towns, isolation, and familial secrets, but (surprisingly) wrote absolutely nothing about cold weather or snow. Long time readers of Malfi’s work will understand what I’m talking about here, as he tends to couple cold weather with loneliness and despair. In this one, we have an abundance of darkness, and a whole lotta bats, among other things. I’m starting to think that Malfi writes books in seasons. Shit… am I going to have to arrange these things on a bookshelf by their temperature and fictional climate? How the hell am I supposed to alphabetize, then?

Now, while The Narrows is resplendent with imagery that won’t soon leave the thinkin’ goo in your packed little head box of horror, there’s one thread that I wish would have been expanded on and played with a little bit more. A character, to be more specific. Hogarth, an old man who showed promise as that “old-coot who knows everything about the little town he’s lived in for his whole entire life”, didn’t have nearly enough of a part to play in the whole shebang. Granted, the addition of this character added a really homey feel to the novel and very much allows the reader to become more like a citizen of Stillwater, and less of a mere reader, I do have to admit that this is a point that only an obsessive weirdo like me would point out. So be on your merry way, gawker. I just wanted to see more about him, and not just come across him as an agent of foreboding terror instead. It may have added that little bit more to the history of Stillwater, I guess. But whatever. I’m picky. Sue me. (Please don’t… I have enough trouble as it is.)

Be warned, dear fiends… for some spoilers lay ahead. Yarrr.

I’m really most impressed by the massive scope of this novel. The Narrows may boast a small cast of characters, but Malfi plays them out to be larger than life while sticking closely to its small town roots. Every step that the young boy, Matt Crawley, takes at the beginning of the story bleeds with a sort of coming-of-age vibe, and expertly follows his progress from curious child to unfortunate victim, even when he moves into being more of a background character than a main one. The majority of the story revolves around his sister, Brandy, and the strange events that are taking place in the town, including Matthew’s suspicious disappearance, but it also ties so many other incredible story lines together beautifully, making this a terrifying but intense read. Eventually even Matt and Brandy cross paths, which is the point where I teared up like a hormonal teen girl watching one of those Christmas commercials from McDonald’s. Shut up.

Malfi manages to cover so many sociological and introspective topics in this novel through his characters, adding many levels with which to bludgeon you emotionally, and showing, or proving again, that one of his strongest skills lies in observing those around him. Up until this novel, I was of sure that After The Fade and Via Dolarosa showed Malfi at his best in this regard. But now, as is often the case, I’ve been proven wrong.

I’ve got to wrap this up, but I won’t end with one of those “I hope Malfi ____” and “I can’t wait for ____” lines that I usually throw down. Instead, I’d like to leave you with something else entirely. A look at the future, that also happens to be a look at the past.

When next we meet Malfi at Samhain, we’ll be looking at something we’ve come to expect from this higher than high caliber author – a story that involves unresolved family secrets, dread, and darkness, The Fall of Never, a book was originally published in 2004 by Raw Dog Screaming Press in TPB format. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be in for another stellar read, and be left with yet more images and terrifying memories that will haunt us deep into the night. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that when Malfi allows for one of his previous pieces to be reprinted, you know it’s going to be a damned good read. Hell, look at Via Dolorosa (which I’ll get into in another review). Kurtz and co. rereleased this beautiful piece of work over at Abattoir press earlier this year, and I swear to the flying spaghetti monster that I have yet to read a more moving example of literature since.

Malfi is a powerhouse, as I’ve said many times before. We’re in for a hell of a great year in 2013 as far as I can tell.

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One thought on “The Narrows by Ronald Malfi

  1. Reading “The Narrows” right now… Been a fan of Mr Malfi’s writing since I first read Floating Staircase. He sure knows how to conjure up stories that are as unusual as they are surreal.

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