Review – ‘Crossing the Lines’ by Amanda Huggins

I received a digital copy of this book from the author.

Amanda Huggins is a writer with an eye for the details in the everyday that bring a story to life (see my reviews of All Our Squandered Beauty and Scratched Enamel Heart). In her novella Crossing the Lines, we follow Mollie as her mother Ella drags her from her home on the New Jersey shore to a farm a thousand miles away, on the promises of a man. 

From the beginning, Mollie is distrustful of Sherman; there’s something in his eyes that gives him away. As the story unfolds it becomes evident that Ella is also conscious that Sherman was not the man she hoped, but expectation and humiliation force her hand and she goes ahead with the move to the farm knowing it puts both her and Mollie in danger. As dreams unravel and Sherman’s nature becomes fully apparent, Mollie realises that if she doesn’t save herself, no one else will. 

There’s a diverse cast of characters here, quite disparate but all joined to the narrative by their interactions with Mollie, no matter how fleeting. The messages in these interactions follow two main streams. The first is that kindness heals, offering a kind of catharsis that allows people to release their pain and move forward. The second is that the vulnerable, over and over, are let down by those who are meant to keep them safe and that cycle is difficult to break. Mollie is let down by almost all the adults in her life; Ella’s own issues with abandonment are a precursor to her treatment of Mollie; even Sherman, a victim of childhood abuse, is able to recognise in the end but not break the pattern in his own life. Huggins acknowledges the universality of this in the story itself:
She felt powerless, as though she had no choice but to bide her time, just as thousands of women did every day, even though the same bad things kept on happening to them, even though promise after promise had been broken.

Amanda uses description to bring vivid colour to the short stories that create this novella. There are subtle layers of meaning in these descriptions too, which add atmosphere and allude to a deeper feeling in places:
They stopped overnight at a cheap motel with stained carpets and broken blinds, a dusty hosepipe coiled like a rattlesnake by the empty pool.
Here, the visible neglect is clear, but the simile of the rattlesnake adds an additional layer of menace, effectively disconcerting the reader. She does this again in describing Oakridge:
It was a dust so fine you could trace patterns in it with a blade of grass, and when the rains came it thickened into a paste that dyed your skin like henna.
The allusion here is that Oakridge is a place that marks, that leaves visible traces, that changes a person and stays with them. This simile is perfect for the impact Oakridge has on the characters in the story.

Crossing the Lines is not always easy to read – the damage its characters do to each other can be difficult to face. Yet, as Amanda Huggins acknowledges, this is the nature of human behaviour. In giving us a determined protagonist, and a sense of hope in so many of the characters’ lives, Amanda leans into a quiet optimism that runs through so much of her writing. If you’ve ever, as the dedication of the book says, had to cut and run, this book is a must-read.

Crossing the Lines is available for preorder now from Victorina Press.

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