We are thrilled to share the third place finalist from our 2021 Novel Excerpt Contest, “The Slapjack” by Alan Sincic, selected by Dan Chaon. “This excerpt is something of a wild card since it starts at chapter 5,” Dan says, “and as a reader I felt somewhat unsettled, dropped into the middle of things. And yet the voice won me over—the unique and surprising vernacular, the grinning energy of the prose, the enthusiastic sense of scene and detail. I don’t know whether I yet know what this book is about, but based on these pages I’m willing to keep reading!” Read on below.
We figured a massacre, what with Barnett a boy and Joe, tipsy as he was, taller by a head. Or we figured maybe, what with Joe so deep in the cups, a draw. Or maybe, just maybe, GB had the moxie to humble Joe. The gods intervene, the badger wins, Joe (the arrogant shit) humbled by a local boy.
A Citizen True
The days they rambled on. Barnett moved—if you could call it that, for a kid with naught but a lungful of air for luggage—from Maggie’s anteroom to the shed out back. Set up shop under the shade of an oak at the edge of the road. Flea market from out the bed of a wheelbarrow. Set out from there to conquer the land.
By the end of the season it was clear. GB a boy no more. He took to wearing shoes, for one, and a cap of a kind you see in the movies, khaki with a saucer brim and a drawstring of leather like a Mountie. And the smell of soap. And the shoes, shiny brogans of a kind a banker would wear, squeak in every step, crispy togs he wheedled off a undertaker the town over in exchange for a plaster of Paris phrenological bust from out the attic of an abandoned house.
For the shoes we mocked him.
“Boy been to the blacksmith I see.”
“Somebody shod the mule.”
“Now iffen he takes up lame, we gotta shoot him, no?”
There he was, a day later, the boot bin of Roe’s Army and Navy, poking through the dollar singles—jodhpurs and clodhoppers and patent leather regimental spats, Pershing boots and Russets and Webster Rubber Co. gymnasium sneakers. Found him a set of hobnail trenchers with gutta-percha toes. Not a pair, no, but near enough to serve—the one a tan with a crackly hide and the other, umber with a finish like the pit of the peach.
So there you have it. In full regalia the day he declared himself to Maggie. At the close of day he came, clunk up the steps of the Slapjack, the boots and the cap and now a tidy shirt, white, with buttons and a collar like a citizen true. Even the trousers a cut above. Sure, sure, the same leggings he lifted off a scarecrow the year before, and the rope for the belt, sure, but the tip of the hemp he burned, sealed with a pinch of tar, whammed a silver dollar into place so’s to feign the look of a buckle. Such a shock to see a glint of culture in the wild like that. The hen that lays the Fabergé egg. The clock in the belly of the gator.
Figured to catch her alone, in the still of the air, breath of Pine-Sol blooming up over the sweat of the day, up over the hiss of the mop and the slush of the bucket and the counter clear, and mum the radio, empty the till, upended even the chairs, skyward the legs, salute to the fall of the sun.