The Narrows combines the racial protest of The Street with the exposé of small-town America in Country Place. It depicts the steady march toward disaster of the Dartmouth-educated veteran Lincoln Williams (or Link), who has returned from four years at war with little faith in the opportunities for a satisfying life he has theoretically earned by his various accomplishments. Link grew up as the foster son of a black middle-class couple living on a street now overtaken by the rougher elements of African American urban life. Throughout the novel, he functions as a bridge figure, connecting radically alien worlds whose citizens abjure contact with one another.
Link’s attraction to antithetical worlds deprives him of a true home anywhere, while his boundary-jumping earns him an enmity on all sides that eventually assumes lethal proportions. Link is also full of a misogynistic rage; such suspicion of women fills Petry’s fiction and suggests the deadliness of the gender dialectic operating within a patriarchal power structure.
Link’s gender biases are complicated by race when chance introduces him to Camilo Treadway Sheffield, a beautiful Barnard graduate whose boredom prompts her to take a late-night walk on the African American side of town. Fleeing in dense fog from a grotesque street figure, she is rescued by Link, who does not realize that Camilo is white until he later takes her into a bar (when she discovers with a jolt that he is black). Not until much later does he learn that she is both married and the heir to the Treadway family fortune, a fortune derived from the munitions works that is the town’s major employer.
The animus aroused by their pairing erupts first within the black community....
(The entire section is 722 words.)