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Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite
The Narrows by Mark Zvonkovic takes us back to the late sixties/early seventies in a psychological tale about cult addiction. Larry Brown and his longtime pal Hal, in a Cambridge, Massachusetts bar, witness a ruckus in which two oddly clean-cut young men wrestle with another, the dispute unknown, though the name Misha keeps coming up. Later, Larry witnesses the attacked fellow as a corpse being drawn out of the Charles River. For some pages, this mystery is absorbed in the comings and goings, and the thought stream of Larry as he deals with his large family (his parents are both literature professors). His pressing problem is with his supposed girlfriend Millie, who Hal claims is betraying him. At a reception held by his father, Larry meets Jenny Barrows, who reveals that her brother Josh is ensconced in a cult called the Path of God, led by a prophet named Misha. Josh resides—or is held—in a so-called ashram somewhere on Cape Cod, where Larry’s family has a summer home. Larry’s cousin Bradley lives in the ashram too. Jenny and Josh’s dad has involved a deprogrammer in a plan to intervene and rescue Josh. Larry and Hal join up too, on behalf of Larry’s cousin. A plan is hatched, and among deep discussions of life’s realities and non-realities, the four (Larry, Jenny, Hal, and the professional interloper) make their move.
I enjoyed Mark Zvonkovic’s novel on several accounts. First, there’s the straight-on mystery/adventure element of the rescue attempt. Second, there’s the larger issue of cults—their addictive appeal and what to do about them. Third, there’s the whole investigation of consciousness and methods of transcendence to find permanent peace and happiness; and fourth, there’s Larry’s meandering voice as he struggles with his family and friends. A Harvard grad, he is a junior high school English teacher up for tenure, and in his ruminations the name Daedalus appears (Molly too), main characters of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a masterpiece of stream-of-consciousness. The Narrows is written much in this style, slipping in and out of Larry’s thoughts, reasonings, speculations, and even his dreams. Written in the first person and present tense, the narrative keeps us in Larry’s head all the time, along with deep conversations about the nature of reality and some suspenseful action. Finally, I particularly enjoyed the Salingeresque tone, almost as if Larry is Holden Caulfield grown fifteen years older, with many of the same struggles and ironic observations. Holden’s famous words—goddam, lousy, phony—come up along with Larry’s similar sexual struggles and thought patterns. Also, his give and take with his little sister and the dream image of a man walking toward a cliff. Mr. Zvonkovic has tackled serious issues here, along with an appealing personal touch and brilliant descriptions of the Boston and Cape Cod areas.