As he did in his debut Rivers, Smith once again uses his native Mississippi as the perfect backdrop for this dark but satisfying novel of coincidence and revenge. Tasting freedom for the first time since high school, Russell Gaines is coming home after serving an 11-year prison sentence for killing a young man while driving drunk. At the same time, a woman named Maben returning to the same town finds herself on the run after a fatal encounter with a corrupt local cop. As their lives intersect, both are forced to face their pasts and decide on their futures. Russell and Maben are well-developed characters, and it's easy to understand their choices even if they don't always seem to be the right ones. Smith's comfortable pacing allows for plenty of action while never rushing readers, so they can enjoy the excellent writing. VERDICT Smith's second novel is every bit as good as his first, an excellent piece of Southern crime fiction for Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin afficionados. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/16.]—Craig L. Shufelt, Fort Erie P.L., Ont.
Two hard-luck cases collide in this smooth-flowing novel of the Deep South, where a Mississippi town harbors a long-brewing hunger for vengeance and a slim chance of redemption.Maben and Russell are heading to McComb from different directions, geographically and otherwise. She has been on the road for too many years after a terrible car accident and has tried almost everything to make a life somewhere for herself and her young daughter. He has been serving 11 years in prison for a drunken driving incident that killed a young man. But fate takes Maben on yet another nasty detour via a deputy sheriff who rapes her and then calls up two friends to join the party. Maben grabs his gun and ends that soiree before it gets going. Russell steps off a bus and into the fists and boots of the dead young man’s two brothers. Russell’s stolid father and a Mexican woman he has taken in offer stability when it’s most needed. Another deputy sheriff, who played high school football with Russell, faces the awkward task of finding out why his old friend turned up at the scene of Maben’s highly motivated gunplay shortly after investigators arrived. Smith (Rivers, 2013, etc.) gives Maben a gritty strength that may not be enough in her current plight. Russell, a moody, meditative loner who knows that “rough lives got rougher,” has his hands full with the murderous brothers and seeking out the woman he lost while in prison, but he’s inclined to help where he can. The book’s brooding atmosphere lights up often with strong scenes of high tension. Smith writes shapely prose and sharp dialogue and everywhere displays an acute sense of the moments and pain that can define lives in a small town.
Shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award
"Desperation Road is an elegantly written, perfectly paced novel about a man and woman indelibly marked by violence. Characters who would be mere stereotypes in a lesser writer's hands are fully realized, and we come to care deeply as they attempt to create a better life for themselves. An outstanding performance."Ron Rash
"Michael Farris Smith is one of the best writers of his generation, and this very well may be his best work--taut, tense, and impossible to put down."Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
"Michael Farris Smith's Desperation Road reads as if it were forged in a fire stoked by the ghosts of Carson McCullers, Larry Brown, and William Gay. The result is a novel rife with violent beauty and incredible grace. Smith's terse, muscular prose encapsulates a heart that renders this novel as rich and alive and wounded as any you'll find in contemporary fiction."
Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy
"Anchored by prose that is both poetic and brutal, Desperation Road is a gorgeous and violent book. But don't be fooled by the title. Michael Farris Smith's novel teems with the honest and believable humanity that only the bravest writers dare to search for in the most troubled souls."Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street
"Michael Farris Smith taps into the rhythm of a world I know, and he does it so well, with such ease, that it's almost like I'm living it instead of reading it. His anti-heroes teeter always between the drag-out skids and sweet redemption, and they create a beautiful, true tension that makes this novel burn and thrum in your hands."Jamie Kornegay, author of Soil
"A novel that lends dignity and grace to those too often damned, DESPERATION ROAD is fearless, guttural, and thunderously heartfelt. Quite simply one of our finest writers at work today, Michael Farris Smith has made his own place at the table."
David Joy, author of Where Light Tends to Go
"This book tore at my heart and infected my brain. It reminded me how powerful literature can be, and how often it falls short. Michael Farris Smith is a huge talent."
Richard Grant, author of Dispatches from Pluto
"Desperation Road is a brilliantly compelling novel dealing with an enormously difficult but fundamental reality of the human condition: how lives lived intensely for years without connection to or even knowledge of each other can suddenly intersect with profound consequences. Michael Farris Smith is a prodigiously talented writer whose new book is not only an exciting read but an important literary event."
Robert Olen Butler, author of A Small Hotel
"Smith writes shapely prose and sharp dialogue and everywhere displays an acute sense of the moments and pain that can define lives in a small town."
Kirkus (starred review)
"Smith is a meticulous craftsman who evokes his protagonists and their world with patience and subtlety. Ultimately, the road of the novel's title moves just through desperation, but also into a tentative landscape of hope, and perhaps even redemption."Publishers Weekly
"Smith's lean, visceral prose will keep readers glued to a richly textured and briskly paced story."
"The book is elegant, even profound, the cadence of the words alluring, bringing the reader deeper into this world of gray.... Amidst this, there is a glimmer of hope to lead them into brightness again."The Clarion-Ledger
"Dazzling.... Smith is incredibly gifted; emotion and poetry soak his straightforward prose, its easy flow masking the precision behind every word. He imbues the everyday slog of difficult lives with reverence and grace, painting the faintest glimmer of hope in opportunities lost and prices paid for flying too close to the web."
"Put the name Michael Farris Smith on your must-read list.... Desperation Road doesn't meet or exceed expectations so much as blows the doors, windows and roof off the house in which it lives. It's a book for which you'll want to set aside everything else."
"Smith writes in spare, sharply observed language, like a more colloquial take on Cormac McCarthy.... The steady accumulation of phrases in Smith's prose conveys a sense of control even as the characters' lives seem marked by random misfortune."
Atlanta Journal Constitution
"Elegant prose and masterful storytelling transform this tale into a work of literary art.... The author's skills are apparent on every page. The simplicity and clarity of the writing underlie and enhance his uncanny ability to unerringly depict a scene. The Southern, small town locale is so artfully described that when lightening strikes, the reader flinches."