The Slaughter Rule


Winter in Montana and everything breaks down. When Roy Chutney gets cut from his high school football team just days after his estranged father dies of heart failure, he mistakes the cut as a loss more tragic than being fatherless. For Roy, football meant more than the glory or the fancy of girls: it promised escape from his lonely rural existence and salvation from the paralyzing passivity that dominates his life.

Roy finds himself with nowhere to turn. His stewardess mother is often absent, or absorbed in her own loneliness; his awkward flirtations with girls only intensify his longing; and football, the only proving ground he knows, has been denied him. Roy drowns his frustration in a mixture of tequila and self-pity, cruising the drag with his best friend, Tracy Two Dogs, a Blackfeet Indian with no small trouble of his own. But in Blue Springs, Montana, alcohol begets violence, and the soon-reached limits of small-town Saturday nights only add brutality to Roy's despair.

Enter Gideon Ferguson, a canny giant of a man who ekes out a life among transients and barflies, hawking newspapers in the two a.m. netherworld of closing time. A fringe-dweller from a roughneck world, Gid is haunted by a troubled past—notice the scars, the rage under his skin. Gid offers Roy a wild-card chance at self-redemption. A football fanatic, Gid is recruiting "gamers"—kids who scrap hard—from all over town to play on his Six-Man football squad. Rough-shod crazy cousin to the regular "three yards and a puff of dust" game, Six-Man football is played on the outer reaches of the west, in towns too hard to die, yet too small to people an eleven-man team. Gid is fixing to barnstorm these towns, and he wants Roy to lead his squad, to be his quarter-back. "You'll be an outlaw, Roy. Rogue. Renegade. Gonna have something ain't no one can take away."

Roy accepts, and convinces Tracy to join the team as well. Over the course of the season, Gid and Roy enter into a cautious, curious friendship. For Gid, the football team provides a sense of purpose in a life nearly bled dry. For Roy, the game is a pure response to life—if you break enough tackles and keep sprinting for open ground, you must might outrun trouble. It's almost as if they complete each other: Roy permits Gid a dimension of grace, a glimmer of innocence, which Gid has never known, and Gid provides Roy a portal into adulthood.

Entering Gid's honky-tonk nightlife, Roy connects with Jenna Spoja, a dark-eyed bartender several years Roy's senior. But when this romance interferes with Gid and Roy's friendship, Gid's response is complicated—is he happy for Roy, or is he jealous? See, Gid has grown right fond of Roy, perhaps too fond. Emotionally starved and sexually naive, both repulsed and flattered by Gid's crude attempts at affection, Roy becomes suspicious of Gid's desires. Roy must gauge for himself what kind of man Gid is, and what kind of man Gid wants him to become.

Just when they need each other the most Roy's relationship with Gid takes a hard switchback turn. In a brutal game against a juggernaut Six-man team, Gid's team faces the humiliation of losing by "The Slaughter Rule"—the game will end if they fall 45 points behind. Aroused by blood defeat and betrayal, Gid tries to teach Roy a hard lesson about the meanness of the world, but tragically oversteps the bounds of their tenuous friendship. He forces Roy to choose between submission and abandonment, vulnerability and violence.

THE SLAUGHTER RULE is a rough season in a young man's life, a season of exposure, of prejudice, and ultimately, of compassion.

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