The novella, The Narrows, Miles Deep, is the beautifully written and heartrending story of Eric Morris and Roy Bancroft, lovers who parted ways some four years ago when Eric joined his family’s business as a trucker and relocated from Utah to Las Vegas and Roy remained in Salt Lake City to be near the mountains and continue working in a small engineering firm. Eric and Roy have arranged a reunion camping trip in The Narrows Zion National Park in the hopes of rekindling their relationship.
Set primarily in Salt Lake City and southern Utah the story takes place during the 1980s and both begins and ends in the present but unfolds in a non-linear retrospective fashion. The story is divided into four parts tracing the lives of Eric and Roy, their respective childhood and adolescence, their relationships with family and friends, their first meeting and the evolution of their relationship through the first person narration of several secondary characters, among others, Eric’s parents, Roy’s father and Eric’s best friends. Characterisation in further heightened through Roy’s extremely intimate third person introspection and through Eric’s somewhat more muted thoughts.
Great insight into both Eric and Roy is gained through the alternating narratives and voices of friends, family and old lovers, and complemented by the introspection of the main characters as Eric and Roy are explored from all sides. As the story unfolds the circumstances of both characters’ lives are revealed and the layers of the events and life experiences that have shaped them are slowly peeled away.
We learn of Eric’s struggle with his commitment to his Mormon faith in the face of his religion’s blatant homophobia and overall hypocrisy, and his inability to reconcile this with who and what he is. This leads him to abondon the Mormon Church altogether but his continuing fear of coming out also motivates him to distance himself from his family. In many ways Eric’s struggle defines and influences his life choices and decisions, which ultimately impact his relationship with Roy, as he is hesitant and fearful of fully revealing himself to his lover.
“When Eric came off his mission he moved to Salt Lake City and began working and going to school up there. He came home from serving the church different. After two years, he was still gentle and sweet, but was unsure of himself where most of the other local boys came back with plans, married old girlfriends, started families. Eric just wanted to get away. I didn’t understand, but I suppose the thing to do was just let him be. I wish I had gone slower when I was his age. I didn’t want him to miss a thing.”
We also come to know and understand Roy’s deep emotional pain caused by the loss of his twin brother, abandonment by his mother and his father’s failings as a parent brought about by his own pain at the loss of a son and wife. These losses have had a seminal impact on Roy and his ability for emotional intimacy. Roy prefers his solitude and is initially quite tentative in his relationship with Eric. And yet by his own admission, his meeting of Eric stopped his world on its very axis and in Eric he finds solace from the loneliness he’s felt his entire life.
“Eric’s touch came back to him. Like his mother’s: lightly on the forehead. He began to think of her, to equate her smell with the smells of the canyon. He’d lost the specifics of her years ago so that now she came to him unfocused. The weight of her shape lingered in his mind, however, and he could remember her warmth when she bent over him before he went to sleep, or came up behind him to see what he was doing at the table. It was her warmth that wouldn’t leave him. Years went by and no matter what he did it still clung to him until last night, when it was replaced by Eric’s. He felt a kind of freedom now, a lightness. He brought his hands together as if in prayer. He smiled, and then wept.”
As the story takes place during the 1980s the spectre of HIV/AIDS hovers and looms throughout as an ominous intruder that will impact the lives of the entire cast of characters.
Mr. Schabarum’s writing style is literary and poetic, but at the same time quite elemental in nature cutting to the heart of Eric and Roy and their hopes and fears as they navigate both their lives and relationships, without melodrama or cliché. Far from muting the emotional magnitude and impact of their story, the unassuming and introspective qualities of Mr. Schabarum’s writing achieve the opposite and provide for an extremely powerful reading experience. I was completely immersed in this story from the very first paragraph and read it in one sitting.
The Narrows, Miles Deep is a multi-layered story with several emerging themes. As much as it is a story about Eric and Roy’s journey and relationship, it is also a story that interweaves such themes as coming out and coming of age, homophobia, religion, parenting and family relationships, life choices, HIV/AIDS, loss and letting go. Ultimately, the overarching theme of this story is about the fragility of love. I truly loved this story and despite its tragic ending, found much beauty in the sadness of Eric and Roy’s journey. While unrelated, the three accompanying short stories are equally well written and carry with them similar themes as the novella.
I am excited at the discovery of Mr. Schabarum’s writing and look forward to reading his debut novel The Palisades. I highly recommend The Narrows, Miles Deep without any hesitation.
The Narrows, Miles Deep by Tom Schabarum is available at Amazon.