This novella might well be referred to as a coming-of-age story, but reading it feels instead like something rather more complex. Based on Amanda Huggins’ ‘Red’, runner up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, ‘Crossing the Lines’ is a subtle yet powerful tale of friendship and survival, and breaking inter-generational habits. On paper, fifteen-year-old Mollie seems bound to follow her mother Ella’s sorry footsteps, duplicating her life story of being used and discarded by men. There’s that, and the shared jealous temper in both their personalities hinting at a sense of inevitability.
The way music is interwoven into the story is so clever. The songs of alt country rocker Steve Earle gets a mention, which gets five stars from me, and we can’t help but feel Ella’s anguish and loneliness when Mollie’s father uses a dedication on the radio to break her heart.
When Ella takes up with the brutish Sherman Rock, he quickly moves she and her daughter far away from their New Jersey home. To isolate victims is a classic abuser technique and there’s a sense of foreboding as Mollie and Ella sit in this man’s truck and travel one thousand miles across country to his remote farmstead. The atmosphere thickens and darkens as the relationship between Ella and Rock inevitably sours.
What a relief it is to join Mollie on her journey of escape. She takes along stray dog Hal; we’re sweetly reminded of the girl’s youth. She and her faithful companion hitch rides on the journey back to safety, with $20 dollars to their name. The pair meet a trail of characters when hitchhiking, taking good advice and bad, and bartering with a crate of beer. Some folk are kind and help her on her literal and metaphorical journey; others are nasty pieces of work Mollie’s sass and Hal’s faithfulness, strong jaws and sharp teeth save her from. There are gentle hints so cleverly woven into the story; Mollie’s time with Alice with whom she goes dancing with is sweetly romantic and gives us a glimpse perhaps of how her adult life will turn out. The strength and tenacity of this teenager and the value of good friendship so skillfully detailed by Huggins gives us a truly inspirational story of hope.
Crossing the Lines is published by Victorina Press and out now.