TSS: Review: Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

September 15, 2013 Dystopian fiction, Review, Simon & Schuster, The Sunday Salon 3

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 10, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451699425
  • Source: Publisher

After years of debilitating and destructive hurricanes in the Gulf coast, the United States government, unable to sustain or assist the depleted region, has drawn new boundary lines.  The new boundary, ninety miles north of the coastline, is referred to as the Line. Anyone south of it has signed their own death sentence for no government support, including resources, electricity, military support, shall be provided.

Cohen is one of these people.  His wife and unborn child were killed during evacuation.  He returned to bury them on their family land in Mississippi but has been unable to leave them behind. He is one of the few survivors who continues to live in their home, sustaining himself on a host of carefully collected supplies and food. That is all taken away from him when his home is ransacked, all of his food and supplies taken. Cohen is forced out of his home, determined to recover what has been taken from him.  He encounters a colony of survivors, led by Aggie, a fanatical preacher with horrific plans to repopulate the region. Cohen must come to a difficult decision: does he help the the people Aggie has been holding captive or does he continue his journey to the line…alone?  His decision is influenced by a secret that could be deadly to those individuals whose lives he is trying hard to protect.

Rivers is a novel that is both dark and devastating yet, beneath all the devastation, a semblance of hope remains.  Cohen’s character represents a sense of hope in an area so decimated by nature’s destruction.  His character, up until now, is unable to leave behind the life he once had.  It is only with his assistance that the survivors of Aggie’s “cult” can escape the dangerous region below the Line.

The setting Smith creates is bleak: imagine a South completely destroyed by hurricanes and flooding.  Rivers of water now exist where there were once roads and homes. Long gone are the semblances of a civilized life. What replaces it, a world in which pirate-like individuals brutally murder for a a few gallons of gas, is absolutely chilling.  Smith could have easily politicized this novel, turning it into a rant about our government and its response to devastation by hurricanes like Katrina. However, he does not. Instead, this novel is character-driven.  Their survival, the sense of love and hope that binds them, are what makes this novel excel.

I read this novel in two sittings. Smith’s rich and descriptive writing enveloped me, parts were so eloquently written that I had to pause and read it out loud.  A glimpse of humanity in the midst of devastation, this is a novel that will reside within me for months to come. Highly, highly recommended.

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