Crossing Over
by Paul Clayton

"I never thought I’d live to see the day when a legally-elected president of these United States would be dragged out of the... White House."

The future United States is on the verge of a second civil war, plunging its citizens into a dystopian universe where they must fend for themselves. Any semblance of government control is nonexistent. From New York to Massachusetts, several states have formed the Liberty League to support the radical Revolutionary People's Party. Meanwhile, state guards, including those of the Carolinas, Alabama, and Kentucky, have formed the Minute Men that support the incumbent president. The United States Government now has two presidents and a severely fractured country. The main character, Mike McNerney, his wife, Marie, and disabled teenage daughter, Elly, are thrust into this chaos with no failsafe. They are forced to leave the comforts and safety of their home and travel toward the Canadian border in the hopes of crossing over and rediscovering a sense of normalcy. The irony that such a world in the modern political landscape is not nearly as far-fetched as it once seemed is not lost upon the reader.

In Mike, Clayton has created a character who, though seemingly passive at first, understands that fear for his family's welfare is genuine, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect them. An initial encounter with a thug in the McNerney's own home sets the tone for a tense rollercoaster ride driven by desperation. The purchase of a .38 revolver is symbolic in many ways, signifying that the structure of democracy, peace, and due process has crumbled to the ground, paving the way for a path to anarchy.

Setting out for the Canadian border in their camper, Mike and his family initially encounter Captain Moore and a young Armenian teen, Gabe, from the Wisconsin Militia. Almost instantly, the chemistry between Gabe and Elly is evident and genuine. Nevertheless, rather than waiting for the right time, Mike decides to take another route to the border, leaving Gabe and the militia. At the border, however, the unfolding scene is one of unhygienic mayhem.

Interestingly, Clayton delves into many of the topics that terrorize society today, from mental health and suicide to cyberbullying and simply a complete disregard for civility. As audiences traverse through humanity's systematic breakdown, the stark contrast of greed, selfishness, and "man-eat-man" mentality at the border is on full display. Trying to fill the long days of waiting—a wait time of approximately six months—Mike sees firsthand how low society has gotten when characters in power offer to take them across in exchange for Elly. The family's plight is portrayed with such force that readers can feel the torturous cycle of hope and despair. For some families, their way out of the disorder is a silent, eternal sleep via carbon monoxide poisoning, or as the characters describe it, "camper-cide." Throughout, Clayton does an effective job of conveying Mike's anguish, helplessness, and, ultimately, introspection. He ponders his next steps, pleading to God for a way out.

While the existential discussions between Mike and Marie are thought-provoking, the scenes of rioting are particularly scintillating. The chants of racist, fascist, and homophobe reverberate and build up tension. More than anything else, understanding that the scenes in this book could become a reality is spine-chilling. On the surface, this is a tale of survival and family. It also the story of a noble husband and father who is willing to lay down his own life to ensure no harm comes to his loved ones. Digging deeper, however, Clayton explores several interesting themes ranging from the nature of deep-seated division that is rampant in our society to the mental health aspect that so often gets overlooked and exacerbated by social media, where individuals can hide behind a facade of technology and destroy anyone's character and life. Ultimately, Clayton's text is a hair-raising portrayal of what it would like if mankind lost its humanity and the glimmers of hope, however small, that are there to restore it.

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