September 2013 Indie Next List
“In a post Katrina world still
ravaged by storms, one man tries to maintain an illusion of
normal life and finally is forced to seek escape and a new
beginning. The physical and spiritual odyssey of Cohen is
conducted in a world gone mad but his quest is an assertion of
the decency capable of humanity. The language is rich and
lyrical, the story taut and tense, the characters unforgettable.
The world of literary fiction has a new entrant in its ranks.”
— Bill Cusumano, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI
In the tradition of Cormac McCarthy, Larry Brown, and James Lee Burke, Rivers is an enthralling, darkly beautiful novel set in Mississippi against the backdrop of a series of devastating storms that pummeled the American South in the years since Hurricane Katrina. It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn't rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land. Following years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast--stretching from the Florida panhandle to the western Louisiana border--has been brought to its knees. The region is so punished and depleted that the government has drawn a new boundary ninety miles north of the coastline. Life below the Line offers no services, no electricity, and no resources, and those who stay behind live by their own rules. Cohen is one who stayed. Unable to overcome the crushing loss of his wife and unborn child who were killed during an evacuation, he returned home to Mississippi to bury them on family land. Until now he hasn't had the strength to leave them behind, even to save himself. But after his home is ransacked and all of his carefully accumulated supplies stolen, Cohen is finally forced from his shelter. On the road north, he encounters a colony of survivors led by a fanatical, snake-handling preacher named Aggie who has dangerous visions of repopulating the barren region. Realizing what's in store for the women Aggie is holding against their will, Cohen is faced with a decision: continue to the Line alone, or try to shepherd the madman's captives across the unforgiving land with the biggest hurricane yet bearing down--and Cohen harboring a secret that may pose the greatest threat of all. Eerily prophetic in its depiction of a southern landscape ravaged by extreme weather, Rivers is a masterful tale of survival and redemption in a world where the next devastating storm is never far behind.
"Rivers is a novel that forces the reader to face terrifying possibilities and haunts long after the last page. Smith captures the essence of humanity in an almost post-apocalyptic world and his writing earns him a well-deserved place next to greats like William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy."
“Every once in a while an author comes along who’s in love with art and the written language and image and literary experiment and the complexity of his characters and the great mysteries that lie just on the other side of the physical world, writers like William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. You can add Michael Farris Smith’s name to the list.”
-James Lee Burke, New York Times bestselling author of Creole Belle and The Tin Roof Blowdown
“The lightning whips and the thunder bellows and the rain attacks in the water-stained pages of Michael Farris Smith’s Rivers, a hurricane-force debut novel that will soak you with its beautiful sadness and blow you away with its prescience about the weather-wild world that awaits us.”
-Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon, The Wilding, and Refresh, Refresh
“A story so powerful, I thought it was going to ignite every time I picked the damn thing up. Rivers will be compared to some of the greatest stories ever written by writers of generations past and present, but what can’t be compared is the power and skill that lie within its pages. The words will shear your eyes and brand your mind, and you’ll be scarred by what you’ve read for days, weeks, even months after. This is an important book. Pick it up—I bet you won’t be able to put it down.”
-Frank Bill, author of Donnybrook and Crimes in Southern Indiana
“Take an environmental apocalypse, blow in the cadences of Ernest Hemingway and the vision of Cormac McCarthy, sweeten it with humanity, add a Southern twang, and you might get something close to Rivers. Michael Farris Smith’s debut novel is not only a great read; it’s a significant one.”
-Anne Korkeakivi, author of An Unexpected Guest
“Smith’s passion for the South is palpable, and the native Mississippian writes as if in a part homage, part plea to save the splendor of his home state. With stunning prose and nearly perfect pacing, Rivers is an uncommonly good debut, forcing the reader to consider not only the consequences of climate change but also ponder the limits of the human spirit.”