Desperat ion Road by MICHAEL FARRIS SMITH
By MICHAEL FARRIS SMITH (NO EXIT) OUT NOW
The dustbowl towns of Mississippi: a place where the cops are even worse than the criminals, everyone drives all night with beer bottles between their legs, and the lost and desperate are way out on their own. Here we find Russell Gaines, fresh from 11 years in the pen for killing a teenager while drink-driving, and now being hounded by the kid’s vengeful brothers. Meanwhile, social castaway Maben is running from the relentless cruelties of the world with her young daughter, only to find herself shooting down a police officer.
The set-up is pure Southern Noir, but Michael Farris Smith’s third novel aspires to the emotional detail and finely traced internal lives of Flannery O’connor, Cormac Mccarthy or Harper Lee. Action is brief and brutal, while a good deal of time is spent sketching the bleak spaces and hopeless soul-searching, as the pair of protagonists spiral towards a shared fate.
His descriptive prose can often be too flat and repetitive to rival the greats, but Smith handles the agonies left unsaid between Gaines and his ex-fiancee, Sarah, with a devastating tenderness and fleshes out his red-mist villain Larry with the sympathy of Southern gothic’s finest.
In a selfish, predatory world, Desperation Road carves out a bloody chunk of redemption.