In Smith’s haunting, engrossing latest (after The Fighter), strangers awaken an evil force lurking in a small Southern town. In 1976 Red Bluff, Miss., storefronts are empty and boarded up after a long economic downturn. One humid summer, an unnamed man, woman, and boy arrive. While camping in a broken-down Cadillac under cover of creeping kudzu, the man hears whispers in the vines that drive him insane and cause him to kill the woman and cover himself in mud. After twin boys disappear, four lives intersect and secrets begin to emerge from 20 years earlier: Sheriff Myer, a man trying to forget the day he found a young boy staring at the hanged body of his father; Celia, a bar owner struggling with the scribbled psychic premonitions her dead mother left in a trunk; Colburn, a metal sculptor who returned to Red Bluff 20 years after he and Myer found Colburn’s father hanging; and the young boy from the Cadillac, on the run from the deranged man he arrived with. As the four enter the dark landscape, their dangerous search for the missing twins driven by a need for redemption, they confront an evil on a scale they’d never imagined. Smith’s meditation on the darkness of the human heart offers a moving update to the Southern gothic tradition. (Mar.)
"Mr. Smith is a gifted writer whose lean, mean, prose underscores an extraordinary talent for creating atmospheric, vividly described scenes and characters....atmospheric and riveting."Susan Pearlstein, Pittsburg Post Gazette
"A timeless story of good and evil...the luminous prose and depth of emotion Smith conjures in this beguiling book makes "Blackwood" one of the more literary entries in the [Southern noir] canon...There is an inclination to read the book quickly, but the beauty of the language demands you slow down to savor it."Suzanne Van Atten, Atlanta Journal Constitution
"Smith's eye lingers on those elements of the Southern experience most people look right past...In the South of Smith's fiction, no portion of our landscape is too humble or hardscrabble to warrant study."Matthew Guinn, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
"Miraculously beautiful...Smith's prose is both raw and poetic, like opera sung at a honky-tonk. His books are tinged with reverence, an intangible and nearly religious grace that watches over the often brutal events he describes, hinting at the possibility for redemption even in the most debased."Ivy Pochoda, LA Review of Books
"Blackwood is a solid page turner, written in smooth prose"Associated Press
"Unsettling, heartbreaking, and frequently astonishing, this Southern gothic never runs out of revelations...Such is the power of Smith's pitch-black poetic vision that the deeper you get into the book, the more entwined you are by its creeping effects...A gleaming, dark masterpiece by one of Southern fiction's leading voices."Kirkus, starred review
"As in the best noir, a soul-strangling inevitability hangs over Red Bluff, yet somehow Smith gives his doomed characters a dignity in the face of forces well beyond their control"Booklist, starred review
"Masterfully haunting...The writing is stunning and steady, but short chapters create an almost frantic apprehension as Colburn's noble search for himself is marred by wickedness, past and present."Shelf Awareness
"In Smith's haunting, engrossing latest (after The Fighter), strangers awaken an evil force lurking in a small Southern town...Smith's meditation on the darkness of the human heart offers a moving update to the Southern gothic tradition."Publishers Weekly
"Startling, brutal and eerie...Blackwood places Smith firmly among the masters of Southern gothic literature."G. Robert Frazier, BookPage
"Blackwood feels like tumbling into a mirage. Smith's writing levels up with each book he writes"Parnassus Books
"Michael Farris Smith has blown me away again with his powerful words and depiction of a small town in the South"Page 158 Books
"Michael Farris Smith is writing with one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in current fiction"Square Books
"A disturbing, tense, breathtaking novel by the masterful storyteller, Michael Farris Smith"
The Country Bookshop
Still bearing psychological scars from his childhood, Colburn, a junkyard sculptor, confronts the traumatic past when he returns to his hometown of Red Bluff, Mississippi.
In 1956, when he was a boy, Colburn's unloving father hung himself—an act the son not only witnessed, but also abetted. Years later, when Colburn was a teenager, he learned from his mother that before his father's death, he had a baby brother who met a horrible fate due to his father's negligence—something that helped explain the suicide and made Colburn feel even more unwanted. In 1975, when Colburn returns to Red Bluff after years away, he is not the only lost soul drawing attention in the now-faded town. A disheveled man, woman, and boy living out of a dead Cadillac are committing strange and desperate acts that the veteran sheriff, Myer, can't begin to figure out. A married man who has obsessed over Celia, owner of the town bar, since grade school is pushed to the edge when she begins a complicated relationship with the taciturn Colburn—whose father, Colburn learns, consorted with Celia's fortunetelling mother. Unsettling, heartbreaking, and frequently astonishing, this Southern gothic never runs out of revelations. No mere metaphor in Smith's hands, the novel's ever present kudzu vines are a malevolent force, "strands of bondage" with the power to disappear people, cars, and entire houses, concealing ghostly caves and tunnels once dug by slaves. Such is the power of Smith's pitch-black poetic vision that the deeper you get into the book, the more entwined you are by its creeping effects. "It's like when something moves in the dark," says Myer. "You can't see it but you know it's there. I wonder if that's where we are."
A gleaming, dark masterpiece by one of Southern fiction's leading voices.
Is it grit? Is it lit? Is it a thriller? As with the CWA Gold Dagger long-listed Desperation Road and the multi-best-booked Rivers, Smith's new work crosses boundaries. Junkyard sculptor Colburn has returned to played-out Red Bluff, MS, where the sheriff idealistically believes that people will act kindly to the down and out, even though fear and violence pervade the landscape like the ubiquitous kudzu. When Colburn enters a dense thicket in search of missing twin boys, he instead discovers his family's grim history.