The short line-up of characters in Sam Slaughter’s collection lead lives you’d rather not lead yourself, and therein lies the charm.
The unnamed narrator of When You Cross That Line is moving to Florida when he has a run-in with an alligator salesman. The episode turns from odd to ugly, leaving the narrator in search of a swamp, hopeless of finding normalcy in his new adoptive state.
Next James and Grunt get out their power equipment to take care of a facial tattoo, and later the sword-wielding Mr. Gordon strips off his kimono in the middle of the street, forgetting to take his sword with him when he’s shooed back inside.
I empathized most with World War II vet Paul, who fought for your freedoms and will gladly smash your face in if you abuse them. Stupid mid-day drunken salesmen.
The final story, A Bear in the Trunk, works least well. But there’s a guy named Tonka and a drug dealer named Clyde who gives away beer at Gary’s Saloon. Again we aren’t privy to the narrator’s name but it hardly matters: things don’t turn out too well for him, and I’m not convinced the ending really works. I’m not convinced it doesn’t.
And that’s the nature of this short collection of clear-eyed writing. The prose is under control, the characters are unusual, and the reader is grateful to observe from afar: “I bet none of your northern friends have ever held a gator. Be the first.” He pushed on the word northern like it was an intruder.
Strong writing about wart-covered characters, straight out the swamps of Central Florida.