Publication Date: March 15, 2015
Pages: 35 pages
Summary: Night is falling on the road from Darwin to Brisbane, and long-distance truck driver Skennar is making good time in his gleaming red Titan.
He’s been driving pretty much continuously since five that morning, but who cares? His illegal load is hidden nicely beside his legal one, and he’s chatting on his laptop with one of the many lonely women who frequent website chatrooms.
Everything is good. Until a white dot looms on the road up ahead. Another traveller.
And soon the red dirt of the outback will be stained even redder … (Source: Amazon product description)
Short Version: I let toast burn while I was reading this. It’s that good.
Longer Version: Okay, you got me. My original intentions for this blog was to showcase books that are both a) new and b) self-published. Chatterton’s short story is three years old, and distributed by Random House
the lucky bastard but I picked it up because it was free, couldn’t stop reading, and in all conscience, couldn’t not mention it just because Chatterton is one of the lucky writers.
There’s little I can say about the plot that isn’t mentioned in the summary, without going for a trip into The Land of Massive Spoilers. I will say that Chatterton’s style is gripping, getting some genuine gasps and heart-thuds out of me as I took in what happens when one tiny lapse of judgment turns hellish.
Goodreads reviewers were quick to point out that the protagonist, Pete Skennar, is incredibly unlikeable. So he is. He’s a petty crim, a drug dealer as well as a drug user, a former jailbird, and someone who trawls for married women on the internet and then has this high opinion of them:
He’s learned to feign interest in anything the bitches say. He can keep it up for months until they’re ready.
Charming, non? I don’t require my protagonists to be likeable, and I don’t think Chatterton intended for him to be likeable. There is, by the by, one carefully placed sentence earlier in the story that may account for much of what happens toward the end, but to point it out would be to spoil it. Suffice it to say, though, that it was a mature and sophisticated way of broaching that particular subject without being melodramatic.
Speaking of mature and sophisticated, Chatterton’s dialogue, such of it that there is, makes my heart sing:
“Hey brother,” says Skennar but can’t think of anything else to say. He glances back at the guy but it’s like looking into a mirror. “Why’d you have to go and do a dumb fucken thing like that for, ey?”
I’m not sure how much of my readership are fellow Australians but for those who aren’t, just trust me when I say that this dialogue is so perfectly executed I can hear Skennar’s voice in my head. There’s actually very little dialogue in this particular story but what’s there is brilliant.
Something else that was perfectly executed was an instance of “Chekhov’s gun”. Anton Chekhov, the playwright, insisted that in good storytelling, a gun introduced in Act One must surely go off in Act Three (and the reverse, of course. If your gun goes off in Act Three, you need to have at least mentioned it in your setup.) Of course, “Chekhov’s gun” needn’t be an actual gun (and in this instance, it isn’t). But when Skennar’s “one thing that was bothering him” is reintroduced it had the perfectly desired effect on me – not “X? I don’t remember x at all” nor “Skennar, you moron, how could you forget?” It was: “Oh, shit. That.”
Just to keep my rep as a serious reviewer (and not just the blithering fangirl who dropped Chatterton a line on Twitter and more or less drooled all over him like an overexcited puppy), there were a couple of down sides to this extraordinary story. The ending is slightly abrupt, and that’s not helped by the fact that it ends at 46%, with the rest of the file consisting of a sample of Chatterton’s crime novel, A Dark Place to Die. Don’t get me wrong, it’s now on my TBR list, but the abrupt ending of the story in what felt like “only halfway through” was a bit of a bummer.
Not enough of a bummer, though, to knock this from its spot as the best short story I’ve read in about a year. Goes to show that some published writers might be “lucky”, but others, like Chatterton, deserve it.