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Heart of the Old Country (The Narrows)

Heart of the Old Country (The Narrows)

by Tim McLoughlin

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"Part coming-of-age story, part thriller, it’s got all the ingredients for what may be a whole new genre."—Entertainment Weekly

"McLoughlin in his first novel easily ranks with Richard Price."—Penthouse

Based on Heart of the Old Country, The Narrows is now a major motion picture starring Kevin Zegers, Vincent D


"Part coming-of-age story, part thriller, it’s got all the ingredients for what may be a whole new genre."—Entertainment Weekly

"McLoughlin in his first novel easily ranks with Richard Price."—Penthouse

Based on Heart of the Old Country, The Narrows is now a major motion picture starring Kevin Zegers, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sofia Bush, and Eddie Cahill. This is not the Brooklyn of Spike Lee or Matty Rich, but a counterpoint, where the hangers-on—those left behind in the white flight to the suburbs—continue to “do business” while defending their shrinking borders.

Tim McLoughlin is the editor of the multiple award-winning anthology Brooklyn Noir and its companion volumes. His work has been included in The Best American Mystery Stories. He lives in Brooklyn.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Fans of The Sopranos -- have we got one for you! Tim McLoughlin, a native Brooklynite, has found a pitch-perfect voice in Mike, the 19-year-old narrator of his first novel. Mike, who has watched his father walk the fine line between respectability and old loyalties as a small-time numbers man in South Brooklyn, is preparing to carve out his own destiny and finding it difficult to straddle the same fence his father has negotiated for years. Much to the chagrin of his neighborhood buddies, Mike enrolls in college, driving for a car service to make spending money. But Mike finds it difficult to shake off the old habits that threaten to tether him to a nickel-and-dime life: Whether he's partying in Coney Island with his deadbeat pals, playing a game of cat-and-mouse with his long-suffering girlfriend, or contemplating an affair with a feminist-minded college coed, he's a man caught between two worlds -- the always beckoning and financially lucrative life of organized crime and a life free from the shackles of the Brooklyn neighborhood he's known as "home." The idea of walking away is an elusive one: "It would be like learning a whole other language," but Mike's honesty and McLoughlin's ear for dialogue turn what could have been standard Mafia fiction into a hopeful, often humorous coming-of-age novel. So, take a night off from TV and crack open Heart of the Old Country. It'll give you a glimpse of reality that rarely makes it across the Brooklyn Bridge. (Summer 2001 Selection)
Tom Sinclair
Set in the depths of working-class Brooklyn, this zippy first novel reads like an inspired cross between Richard Price's Bloodbrothers and Ross Macdonald's The Chill part coming-of-age story, part thriller. Streetwise 19-year-old protagonist Mike spends his days driving for a car service and his nights attending college part-time. While trying to figure out which endeavor is more futile, he winds up on the periphery of a murder that will forever alter his destiny. Add to the mix Mike's marriage-minded neighborhood girlfriend, his borderline-wiseguy bookie dad, and a sexy and sophisticated coed temptress, and you've got all the ingredients for what may be a whole new genre: Call it mook noir.
Entertainment Weekly
Publishers Weekly
et in a crummy corner of present-day Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, this sweet,sardonic and by turns hilarious and tragic first novel opens with a no-hoper named Michael going through his motions. These consist of driving his father, Vinny, an ex-sanitation worker turned smalltime bookie, on his appointed rounds; "working" for Big Lou's Car Service, a connected gypsy outfit shuttling senior citizens around the neighborhood; marking time with Gina, "a really decent set of tits"; and drinking and drugging it up with his "friend" Nicky Shades, a junkie on his way down.

Big Lou's gangster brother, Tony, vouches for Michael, so he gets away with much in a neighborhood where one's local standing is the only real currency. Michael has recently entered into strange territory by enrolling in night college classes across the river in Manhattan. Having been raised by his widower father never to reveal himself to strangers, he winds up in an awkward position when he finds himself attracted to a college girl named Kathy. Just as he is about to learn something about the outside world, however, Nicky robs Tony's club and is killed, and Michael is sucked into turf battles on his home territory.

McLoughlin, a Brooklyn native who works in the Brooklyn court system, powerfully describes the bonds between Michael and his father, whose background is gradually revealed as Michael implicates him further in his own criminal bunglings. The novel's greatest achievement is its tender depiction of Michael as a would-be tough guy, trying to follow his father's dictum of "Give them nothing," while undergoing a painful education in the real world.

Kirkus Reviews
A first novel offering stolid suspense from the land of the wiseguys. Mike is 19, from a working-class Brooklyn family that never managed to escape to the suburbs—not that any of them care. He desultorily attends college and reads a lot (from Satyricon to The Sociology of Deviant Behavior) but basically doesn't give a damn about getting an education or anything else. He whiles away his time playing cards at Big Lou's Car Service with his widowed father, Vinny, and a bunch of good-for-nothings that includes high-school pal Nicky, who's now a junkie. Meanwhile, Mike's yappy girlfriend, Gina, pressures him to set a date every time he takes her shopping. Mike won't say no or yes, but he throws his textbooks into a trashcan fire after he decides to work for Lou. Driving old ladies around is easy enough, and he can always duck out to see his new love interest in Manhattan. Kathy has a few intellectual pretensions that Mike sneers at, but she's hot and doesn't mind his crucifix tattoo. Life goes on, right? Then loudmouth Lou makes him an offer that sounds too good and pays too well to refuse: Pick up a bag (contents unknown) from Person A (an Ethiopian in Tarrytown) and take it to Person B (a Hasid in Borough Park). The big question: What's in the bag? Mike knows better than to ask wiseguys questions like that. He just does his job, until he gets shot by an unknown assailant trying to steal the mysterious bag. He hides it, but he's not giving it back until he figures out who whacked him and why. Then he finds Nicky. The wiseguys did a better job on him; Mike only hopes he was dead before someone plucked out his eyeballs. Our hero has just decided he doesn't want to be a gangsterafter all . . . Carefully crafted, with authentic Brooklyn flavor—but no cheap thrills, alas.

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Akashic Books
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Read an Excerpt

I was showered, shaved, and dressed for my night out when Lou turned the corner and stopped in front of my building. He awkwardly slid over and I got behind the wheel. There was a mountain of a guy in the backseat whom I didn’t know. Lou introduced him as Edward and he grunted at me. I smiled as politely as I could.

"We got one more stop," Lou said. “Pass by the store.”

When I pulled up, Little Joey strutted out and climbed in the back with Edward. Joey and I looked at each other with equal surprise.

"Lou," I said, "what the fuck's going on here? Am I driving you somewhere or are we having a reunion?"

“I asked you to do me a favor,” he said. He didn’t look at me or Joey. “You gonna do it or you gonna ask questions?"

"No questions," I said. "But please drop the Don Corleone. You sound silly."

Lou grinned, but then looked back to see Edward’s reaction. He was looking out the window as if he were alone in the car. Edward definitely had me worried.

Following Lou's directions, I drove under the El tracks along New Utrecht Avenue to Sixty-second Street. We parked across from the subway station, in front of the mouth of an alley that ran between a deli and a video store. Every shop on the block was closed and the place looked deserted. I glanced back at Joey and realized he was frightened. He looked like a dwarf next to Edward.

Lou told me to cut the lights. We sat that way, in silence in the dark, for about fifteen minutes. Then two people turned the corner from Sixty-third Street and walked down New Utrecht towards us. They looked completely bombed, weaving and tripping and mostly leaning against each other to stay upright. As they drew closer I saw that one of them was Shades. The other looked like a hippie, with long hair pulled back in a ponytail. When they were next to the car the rear door opened and Edward got out. I tried to say something then, but I couldn't. I felt like one of Edward’s huge hands had my throat squeezed shut. The guy walking with Nicky suddenly straightened up and veered away from him. Nicky practically collapsed into Edward's arms. The hippie walked over to the car. Lou handed him an envelope and he turned and ran back to Sixty-third and out of sight. Edward was walking Nicky down the alley. Lou got out of the car and stuck his head back in the window.

"Joey, I want you to walk around the block to Fourteenth Avenue. You stand at that end a' the alley. Nobody comes down the alley, you unnerstan'?"

Joey stepped out of the car and began walking around the corner. After he’d gone a few feet he started running. Lou turned to me.

"Keep the motor running. Lights off. Keep your eyes open. Hit the horn twice if there's trouble."

As he was turning away I tried to talk again. My throat still hurt and his name came out in a stage whisper. He turned back.

"I know, kid. You gotta be on the road by ten-thirty."

He walked to the back of the car and opened the trunk. I thought for a moment they were going to throw Shades in, but when I looked down the alley, Nicky and Edward were disappearing behind a dumpster. Nicky seemed to be talking to him. They looked like old friends. Lou slammed the trunk. He walked down to them with something bulky under his coat. They all moved out of sight around the bin.

I wanted to move, but I couldn't seem to take my hands off the steering wheel. There wasn't anything I could do, I told myself. I was a driver. I couldn't stop them.

Overhead, I heard the roar of the B train approaching from downtown. It passed and continued south to Coney Island. I closed my eyes and tried to will myself onto it. Nathan's, chili dogs, whorehouses. As the sound faded, I thought I heard another screaming that lasted a few seconds longer than the wheels on the rail marking the turn at Fifteenth Avenue. I looked down the alley, but saw nothing. I hoped I was mistaken.

About five minutes later Lou stepped out and trotted to the car. He was getting in next to me when I saw a flash of light--fire flaring from behind the dumpster. Its glow framed the mammoth shape of Edward as he plodded down the alley toward us.

What People are Saying About This

Kaylie Jones
Heart of the Old Country is a wise and tender first novel, though its youthful narrator would surely not like to hear that said. His boisterous, irreverent, often hilarious tough-guy pose is his armor, for he comes from the heart of old Brooklyn, where compassion and emotion are considered fatal weaknesses. Yet underneath it all, he shows a love for humanity so deep it might equal Dostoevksy's. Tim McLoughlin is a master storyteller in the tradition of such great New York City writers as Hubert Selby Jr. and Richard Price. I can't wait for his second book!
—(Kaylie Jones, author of A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries)
Sidney Offit
Tim McLoughlin writes about South Brooklyn with a fidelity to people and place reminiscent of James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Among the achievements of his swiftly paced narrative is a cast of authentic and frequently complex characters whose voices reflect dreams and love as well as desperation to survive. No voice in this symphony of a novel is more impressive than that of Mr. McLoughlin, a young writer with a rare gift for realism and empathy.
—(Sidney Offit, author of Memoir of the Bookie's Son)

Meet the Author

Tim McLoughlin was born and raised in Brooklyn. His debut novel, Heart of the Old Country (Akashic), was hailed as reminiscent of James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan and George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris. He was editor of Brooklyn Noir, first in the Akashic Noir Series, as well as Brooklyn Noir 2 and Brooklyn Noir 3.

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