Book Review: Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Good Dog is my favorite column in Garden and Gun. Michael Farris Smith wrote about his dog Black in the April/May 2020 issue. I decided to read one of his books. Heck, his dog gave him the confidence to write.

The opening of Desperation road reminded me of the opening verse to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”:

“Born down in a dead man’s town

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground

You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much

Till you spend half your life just covering up”

Desperate Road is about when life gets ugly, then out of control and then just hard. Desperation Road is a violent place. It is also is a place where the kindness of another down-on-their-luck stranger is all there is and hope is a long shot. This is not a genteel, moonlight and magnolias Mississippi.

“Bad shit happens to good people,” he said when she was done.

Nah. I ain’t a good person. Bad shit happens to everybody,” she said. “I wish to God it’d take a break when you’re trying, though.”

Thinking about how Greg Iles, also from Mississippi, and Smith both paint a picture of state where angry and violent men create their own rules and enforce them with heavy-handed justice, I began to think about the styles of Southern Lit. This lead me to revisit Flannery O’Conner. Her Southern Gothic style relied heavily on Deep South settings, grotesque characters and violence. “”Regarding her emphasis of the grotesque, O’Conner said: “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.””

Desperation Road is a well written book with fully developed characters. At first I wanted to give it three stars, but then I stepped back a realized that I read this book quickly because I wanted to know what was next. Smith is able to hold a tension throughout the book that kept me hooked on the story of people I would give a wide berth if I passed them in a diner or would pretend not to see on the side of the road. He also gives the reader the opportunity to have empathy for his main characters; to see that there but for the Grace of God go I. 4 Stars

““You’re the one who picked me,” he finally said. He looked at her. At the dim light on her face from the dashboard lights. Her tired face. Her old face. Not yet thirty but the face of the defeated. The face of holding on. “It’s like you got an invisible collar around your neck and so do I. And there’s an invisible rope pulling us together.” “That might be a fair way to put it. Like soul mates. But between bad souls.”

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