Book Review: Narrows Gate

Narrows Gate 
By: Jim Fusilli 
Published by: AmazonEncore
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Page Count: 574 (paperback)
Genre: Mafia Fiction,
ala Mario Puzo’s The Godfather
Buy it at Amazon
Source: ARC Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult

Review by Guest Reviewer ~ Sid's Thoughts:
Narrows Gate (2011) is Jim Fusilli’s story about a fictional borough in New Jersey. Narrow's Gate is bakeries and storefronts, gritty warehouses and fish-smelling docks. The inhabitants are Sicilian, Irish, and Jews. Many don’t go to college; they go to work. Their work is extortion, gambling, drugs, union leadership, politician pandering. Deals with the devil, and of course, devils with deals. The Mafia. They are your stereotypical working class mostly Sicilian, with Irish, Czech, Polish, Italian, and German immigrants, portrayed in Narrows Gate as they are in most popular literature and movies/television - you know the picture that pops into your brain - Tony Soprano's crew, for example.

Then, there’s me. I read lots of books. Yet this is my first “review!” Alas, I am far from my comfort zone. Give me a Peter Hamilton Space Opera, or the Sea-Faring stories of Patrick O’Brian, Horatio Hornblower, fictionalized Admiral Nelson stories, and I swim with the dolphins. At the very least, maybe some just-discovered Zane Grey western. Yet, here I am, graciously invited to the world of paranormal romance, the “le mystère de l'esprit féminin… and all this emotional resonance. 

Forgive me, patient reader. I do tend to ramble, and as I approach AARP eligibility, I wander, too. And not always just in my mind. 

If it isn’t clear, gangster-in-realistic-fiction is not my preferred genre. Therefore, I did my research- I went back to the dusty back shelves of my mom and dad’s book-of-the-month-club volumes, and there it was- Mario Puzo’s standard-setting book “the Godfather.” I was looking to compare “Narrow’s Gate” to something. 

This book is about two young men, Sal Benno and Leo Bell, best friends, growing up together in Narrows Gate. Living on Polk Street are the evil chain-smoking matriarch, Dick-the-Bruiser tough guys, the soul-tortured crooner (Bill “Bebe” Marsala cum Johnny Fontane cum Frank Sinatra), the mysterious ever-feared yet seldom-seen overlord and his Jewish partner (cum Hyman Roth), and several saintly long-suffering spouses. 

Narrows Gate did conjure very detailed images in my mind’s eye. I pictured Jerry Lee Lewis as the crooner Bill “Bebe” Marsala, Nichole Kidman as his Hollywood starlet mistress, Eleanor Ree, Kathy Bates as the aforementioned evil matriarch Hennie Marsala. The faces of the main characters, Sal and Leo are not so clear. Maybe Ryan Reynolds is Sal Benno; Brad Pitt is Leo Bell. However, the problem--- and yes, dear reader, I did have “problems” with Narrows Gate—it all seemed like a “made for TV” movie. 

There were interesting twists— Leo’s unusual Army career and his deep, dark secret. Sal’s gumption in finding a way to avoid the “bagman” calling for which he seemed predestined. My presumption as the story ends, is that Sal and Leo have escaped the clutches of the organization from which you can't ever leave. The gumption is Sal's amazing decision to confront the rivals who've set him up by stealing his delivery, and his quick thinking in keeping himself alive when he perhaps foolishly arrives at his door and uses Frankie as a shield to avoid the certain gunfire.

However, much of the book seemed formulaic—I can see traces of the Sopranos- Livia, Junior, Tony himself. Author Fusilli even borrows from The Godfather—Hyman Roth is here, Luca Brasi, Clemenza, Fortunato, Tessio and the rest of the crew. 

Let me indulge myself for only a moment longer, kind reader. I enjoyed reading Narrows Gate—once I got past the author’s method of throwing random pieces of the story at me in the beginning. When the pieces finally began to link together in the middle of the book, I became able to read longer with more want to read more. I swallowed hundreds of pages on the final weekend—I finally wanted to know “how will it end?” Yet I didn’t want to read the sequel… I haven’t sought another visit to Narrows Gate. (However, if you are—author Fusilli has written several stories located in Narrows Gate). 

I’m a poor choice for this book’s reviewer—as are all book reviewers, in my humble opinion. People who praise novels, people who trash novels—their opinion is only valid and reliable to themselves. They should stick to the hymns their own choir sings. When they stray into Jazz, for instance, and their home is syrupy ballads, they will undoubtedly find it wanting. So let me end on this self-effacing note - Narrows Gate is without a doubt better than anything I will ever write. 

Note from the author:
Nothing is borrowed from "The Godfather."  As did Puzo, I used as source material the history of Mafia in America and based my characters on actual members of the organization, much as Bebe Marsala is based on the legend of Sinatra, Eleanor Ree the legend of Ava Gardner and so forth.  Not a single character in Narrows Gate finds its precedent in any work of fiction.

Note from the reviewer:
In my review, I looked at similar literature I was familiar with as a starting point. Maybe the word "borrowed" was too strong a word. But if the Sicilian Mafia is not anything else, it is very much like the whole body of vampire literature these days - governed by a fairly consistent set of rules that are implicitly adhered to by the succeeding authors who join these writing fraternities.

Summary from Amazon:
Jim Fusilli’s new novel takes place in the years surrounding World War II in the dangerous immigrant neighborhood of Narrows Gate, overlooking the Hudson River, where anything can happen—and it usually does. Sal Benno is a neighborhood kid who doesn’t take to school but is able to provide the favors the Mafia needs, a skill that brings him into their inner circle and closer to ultimate danger. His lifelong friend Leo Bell sticks by Sal through thick and thin, but harbors a dangerous secret that could either keep Sal alive—or bring his life to an abrupt end. In the middle of it is Billy “Bebe” Marsala, a hugely popular and handsome crooner who becomes a pawn in a mob war that could destroy them all. A novel that rekindles the spirit of such groundbreaking works as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Budd Schulberg’s On the Waterfront, Narrows Gate is a powerful, epic saga that captures the heart of the immigrant experience—and the soul of America. 


  1. Thanks for sharing your review, Sid. I enjoyed it. :)


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