Whether he did or not, as well as the mystery of what happened to the “Girl with Popsicle” who vanished back then, are just two of the story threads this ambitious narrative attempts to balance as it juggles three different perspectives—one of whom is the aforementioned cat— and asks readers to question what they believe to be true and why.
“First person narrators for me are a much more realistic way of presenting the world than an omniscient, Godlike creator. You don’t get to know everything about everyone. You just don’t,” Ward says. “Your perceptions change every instant and quite often no two people remember the same event the same way. To me, that unreliability is incredibly lifelike, but I think it’s unnerving to people. I think it’s unnerving to the reader because fiction is supposed to be more organized than that. I think what I wanted to do with this [story] was destabilize that a little bit.”
The book embraces many of the most familiar aspects of the horror genre, but it also counts on its readers to possess a shared understanding of its common tropes and signifiers, and uses those assumptions to subvert many of their preexisting expectations.
“That was a decision,” Ward says. “To play [not just ] with the expectations of horror… but also with the snap conclusions people might come to about certain kinds of behavior or mental health conditions [or socio-economic indicators].”
The book’s narrative counts on its readers to feel as though they know what’s happening, that they’ve already guessed the twists ahead of them. And, as the story progresses, certain moments reinforce those assumptions. We’re afraid of Ted, because context clues say we should be, because our own knowledge of the world has shown us it’s often right to be suspicious of loner men who live in shabby, boarded up houses at the end of the lane.
And according to Ward, that unease is absolutely something she counted on her audience feeling. Because, although Needless Street has “no real factual content in the plot at all,” there are “echoes” of a real-life tragedy built into its bones, the kind that could certainly encourage readers to draw specific conclusions about the things they’re watching unfold.