Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: "Rivers" by Michael Farris Smith

If you want an intense, wild ride into a new kind of Apocalypse, Michael Farris Smith’s Rivers is the book you need to read as soon as possible. Not since Donald Ray Pollock or Frank Bill (whose blurb on the back made me purchase this book) has a salt of the earth writer presented a world that is as interesting and full of danger as it is real and emotional. A lot of books advertise themselves as being both emotionally complex and full of action, but it has been awhile since I have come across a book that marries two different feelings into a book almost seamlessly. There is plenty of action in this book. Many people get killed and maimed, and the world that the characters inhabit is dangerous even beyond the reader’s wildest dreams. You really get the feeling that anything can happen; from a character betrayal to character redemption, sometimes within the same page or paragraph even. This is definitely a page-turner of the highest order. But what really got me and what is going to stick with me long after reading this book is it’s long interior monologues that do a great job of exhibiting the person’s loneliness in this new, washed-out world. It gives the ensuing action a strong hint of sadness and loss of hope that never really leaves the page. Even when the bullets start flying and the blood seeps out of wounds, this emotional connection permeates every page of this thrilling book. The plot is simple, so simple I am surprised that no one has thought of it yet. Due to extreme weather conditions (think of Hurricane Katrina times ten) the whole gulf coast is blocked of from the rest of America, creating a lawless land much like that of the Mad Max movies; supplies are scarce, and the only way to get ahead in this violent new world is to live by your own rules. In this new world we find Cohen, a broken man after the loss of his pregnant wife, who is living day-to-day in this hellhole with little hope for the future. When his Jeep is stolen and his house is ransacked, he decides to go out and brave the terrible weather conditions and pass the Line, the border between the flooded states and the dry ones. On the way, he comes across the dangerous Aggie, a snake-handling preacher with a dark vision for the world to come that involves impregnating girls unlucky enough to cross his path and keep them locked up against their will. In Cohen, they find a savior, someone who will shepherd them across the Line and into civilization, if the lawless world and biblically bad weather doesn’t get them first. There are a lot of twists and turn in this story, which I won’t reveal because they are very good, but like I said, the melancholy atmosphere seeps into every action of this book, from a bloody raid in a strip mall, to the dreams Cohen has about him and his wives’ trip to Venice, it is all very powerful stuff that resonates long after you are done.
Rating: 5/5

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