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Desperation Road


Desperation Road

Why don’t you stop reading this right now and put the name “Michael Farris Smith” on your must-read list. Smith acquired a bit of critical attention with his paperback novella, THE HANDS OF STRANGERS (get a copy if you can find one), and met and exceeded that promise with RIVERS, one of those works of speculative fiction that you can kind of see coming, maybe not directly at you but out of the corner of your eye. Now we are favored with the publication of DESPERATION ROAD, which doesn’t meet or exceed expectations so much as blows the doors, windows and roof off of the house in which it lives. It’s a book for which you’ll want to set aside everything else.

DESPERATION ROAD opens with a haunting vignette that features the kindness of a stranger extended to a young woman and her daughter on an interstate highway in Mississippi. We learn, through one of the many breadcrumbs that Smith drops throughout the novel, that the woman’s name is Maben and her daughter’s is Annalee. They are trekking their way to McComb, Mississippi, Maben’s home, a town with which Maben has a tragic history. She intends to pass by but not stay there.

"t’s still early in 2017, but my money is on the proposition that DESPERATION ROAD will find itself on many 'Best Of' lists and award presentations of all genres."

Russell Gaines, another unfortunate son of McComb, is riding a passenger bus into town after spending 11 years in Parchman Penitentiary for his involvement in a vehicular homicide that took place while he was under the influence. His reckless action --- not uncharacteristic, but not the mark of an evil man, either --- took the life of an innocent and blew his own comfortable world apart. Russell’s first steps back into his hometown are greeted with a righteous behind kicking and the promise of more. The welcoming committee notwithstanding, Russell is determined to reestablish himself in town, despite the presence of his former fiancee, now married, and a passel of other ill memories.

Meanwhile, Maben and Annalee arrive in town, taking temporary residence in a women’s shelter. They are laying low, due to an impulsive and poorly thought-out (if benevolently motivated) action of Maben’s that resulted in a chain reaction of circumstances, ending with a dead law enforcement officer in a field. The lives of Maben, Annalee and Russell eventually intersect in a way that no one could ever anticipate while putting each and all in even worse danger, and seemingly with no way out. However, life tosses one of the players a marker, one that he or she may be able to cash in. It’s a dangerous proposition, though, and you’ll read this book all night long to see how things play out.

There is a bit of crucial and critical happenstance that takes place at about the midway point of DESPERATION ROAD that may strike some readers as a bit of a stretch. Be assured that it is not, when locale is considered. The circumstance described --- you’ll know it when you see it --- would not be unusual in any small town, particularly in the South, where most of the inhabitants tend to live out their lives from beginning to end, comfortably and otherwise. The narrative contains a bit of rough humor here and there, but the scenarios that are ultimately played out are by and large tinged with tragedy as the actions and relationships of the past affect the present for better and worse. The result is a tale that, in the end, finds both redemption, paid for with dear coin, and rough justice.

It’s still early in 2017, but my money is on the proposition that DESPERATION ROAD will find itself on many “Best Of” lists and award presentations of all genres. Oh, and watch out for Smith’s next book, THE FIGHTER, coming in 2018. I just read the summary of it, and already I am crawling out of my skin for the wait.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 24, 2017

Desperation Road
by Michael Farris Smith

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316353035
  • ISBN-13: 9780316353038