In life

In life, one of the most central things for many people, is family. Our relationships with loved ones add value to our lives, and often, family members are the ones we can always count on in times of need. However, we live in a time where about one in two marriages end in divorce. The main character in Mark Slouka’s short story Crossing (2009) is one of many who has fallen victim to this tendency. Following the divorce, he’s fighting to reestablish himself and to rebuild his relationship with his son.
The short story takes place in Tacoma, Washington state. We meet the main character and his son in the car on the way to the boy’s house, which is also where we are introduced to the family situation: “He sat in the driveway for a while looking at the yard, the azaleas he’d planted … For a while he hadn’t wanted her back…” He goes on to describe how he feels like a visitor in the home that he apparently used to live in. He mentions in the quote above that he hadn’t wanted her back for a while, but that has seemingly changed now: “… and at some point he saw her watching them … and at that moment he thought, maybe – maybe he could make this right.”
The father intends to rebuild his relationship with his son, and maybe even impress his ex-wife, by taking the son on a camping trip that he’s been on with his father when he was younger. Through several flash-backs we’re told about the past trip: “He remembered the two of them working together, quietly, easily, then his father crawling into the tent to lay out the sleeping bags.”
We are never told about the main character’s outer appearance, and know him only through his thoughts and emotions because of the third person limited narrator. On the contrary, we only know the son through his outer appearance, and it makes the reader worried, because he’s described as small and fragile throughout the story: “He looked over at the miniature jeans … his little hips pushed forward. … feeling the skinny legs bouncing against his thighs.” It makes us question if he should even be on this trip. At one point, the father says that “People in a hurry get in trouble” but it’s clear that he is in a hurry: in a hurry to prove himself to his ex-wife as a good father and as someone who is trustworthy. And it’s true. People in a hurry do, in fact, get in trouble – this is just a hint of what’s to come.
From then on, there’s a massive buildup of suspense. The description of the setting in particular makes it clear to the reader that something is terribly wrong: something awful is going to happen, and this notion keeps us anxiously waiting for the climax. Due to the first person limited narrator, we have access to the father’s fears and doubts; something that the son does not have. For example, when he first sees the river, he gets scared, but never tells his son: “When they came out of the trees and onto the stony beach he felt a small shock … The river was bigger than he remembered it, stronger … For a moment he considered pulling out… but there was nowhere else to go. And he’d promised. “Well there she is,” he said.” This makes the reader lose trust in him, because his anxiety regarding the river becomes so apparent to us.
The setting is important because of the symbolic value that the river has.