Buzzed Books #36 by Chris Blanchard
When You Cross That Line
Sam Slaughter’s chapbook, When You Cross That Line, was published as an award for the reading series There Will Be Words based here in Orlando. At a mere 41 pages, this little chapbook can fit right in your back pocket. The cover is minimal, just the title and author name over a white background. Something about the simplicity and size instantly stirred my curiosity. This unassuming book was carefully planned and executed, its formatting tight, and overall appearance highly professional. What’s inside doesn’t disappoint, either. There are five stories within, all based off Florida Man, a parody twitter account highlighting crazy news accounts of people committing various crimes in Florida.
Most of the stories were subtly surprising. The best example, She’ll Never Hurt Me Again, takes an interesting approach to the classic post-relationship heartbreak story by showing two beefy redneck brothers coping with a relationship that recently turned sour. Seeing two rough n’ tough Southern bad-asses so distraught over a heartbreak serves a refreshing reminder that even the tough guys are liable to get their hearts crushed into dust. Based on the context of the story, we assume these two brothers are drinking to forget, to run from their emotions (that’s the point, right?), but towards the end, the subversion of our expectations comes from the realization that instead of grieving, the brothers are taking action. They aren’t drinking to run, they’re drinking to face the truth, and the task they need to perform: she’s gone, and this tattoo’s gotta go.
Another great example is When You Cross That Line, the story for which the chapbook is named. This story does a great job subverting the traditional role of the main character. The antagonist wins, getting away with holding the main character at gun point, and forcing our hero to take illegally obtained ‘gators in broad daylight before fleeing the scene in a puff of engine exhaust. The whole time, you’re expecting some type of action from the main character, or even a positive resolution to this royally awkward situation, but when the story ends without either, the reader is left with one shocked question: “Did he just get away with that?” These types of tiny tweaks to expectations are present throughout all five stories, adding just enough uncertainty to make them compelling.
Additionally, each story starts off with a high-concept sentence that let’s you know enough to jump right into the action, but not enough to guess what’ll happen. A good example is Neighborhood Watch: “The landlord was ten minutes late, and my girlfriend and I sat on the hood of my car, waiting.” This sentence establishes character and through minimalist diction, creates a false sense of comfortable simplicity. This comfort is soon shot to hell, as the couple, expecting a casual meeting with a prospective landlord, are greeted instead by a senile neighbor, threatening them in his wrinkly birthday suit. Another example, from A Solider Fights for Freedom: “Paul ate lunch at Applebee’s everyday since his wife died five months earlier.” This type of high-concept sentence is worthy of a Disney logline. It perfectly sums up the main character, showing his routine-oriented mindset, only to have the old-timer turn around and beat up a douchebag spouting obscene comments about women at the drop of hat. Sam Slaughter understands how to layer each sentence, utilizing preconceived connotations only to undermine them through zany characters and crazy situations.
All in all, this chapbook kicked ass, and solidifies the fact that There Will Be Words is something to pay attention to. Sam Slaughter’s When You Cross That Line is poignant in its brevity, and obviously well thought out. Writing compelling short-form fiction is tough in and of itself, so when you find a writer that manages to juggle good storytelling with strict word-count limitations and obscure formatting, you know you’re onto something good. If you’re looking for well-balanced prose, go for Sam Slaughter.
If you’re looking to get your hands on some illegally obtained ‘gators, stop by any 7-11 in Central Florida. Tell ‘em Chris sent ya.
Chris Blanchard grew up in rural Colorado, where the dramatic landscape inspires many of the set pieces in his work. His short stories and screenplays are heavily influenced by Kurt Vonnegut, the Cohen brothers, Stephen King, and GZA The Genius. Currently cooped in Central Florida, his free time is dedicated to reading books, honing his craft, and pretending to be a viking.