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Rivers: A Novel Hardcover – September 10, 2013

4 out of 5 stars 233 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As a Mississippi native, award-winning short story writer and first-time novelist Smith makes good use of his home state’s milieu in this powerfully written apocalyptic tale about an unending southern storm. Smith imagines the devastation the Gulf Coast might experience if Hurricane Katrina marked the beginning of a continuous deluge of rain and wind, forcing the government to establish the Line, which isolates the South in flooding and lawlessness. Still haunted by the death of his wife and unborn child, a man named Cohen chooses to stay below the Line, where he avoids the chaos and ekes out a living in his unfinished house. Then a pair of teens ambush and nearly kill him, stealing his Jeep and ransacking his belongings. Left homeless, Cohen finds his way to a ramshackle trailer park controlled by a messianic figure named Aggie, from whose clutches Cohen frees the teens and several women for a perilous dash to safety above the Line. While Rivers is already inviting inevitable comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Smith’s canvas is broader and the story even more riveting. --Carl Hays


Best of 2013 (Columbus Dispatch)

Best Books of 2013 (Daily Candy)

Best Books of 2013 (Book Riot)

Top Ten Books of 2013 (The Capital Times)

Best Books of 2013 (Hudson Booksellers)

“Every once in a while an author comes along who’s in love with art and the written language and image and literary experiment and the complexity of his characters and the great mysteries that lie just on the other side of the physical world, writers like William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. You can add Michael Farris Smith’s name to the list.” (James Lee Burke, New York Times bestselling author of Creole Belle and The Tin Roof Blowdown)

“The lightning whips and the thunder bellows and the rain attacks in the water-stained pages of Michael Farris Smith’s Rivers, a hurricane-force debut novel that will soak you with its beautiful sadness and blow you away with its prescience about the weather-wild world that awaits us.” (Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon, The Wilding, and Refresh, Refresh)

“Smith’s incantatory prose . . . propel[s] this apocalyptic narrative at a compelling clip until the very last page.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“[Rivers] is a wonderfully cinematic story—but there are no Hollywood clichés in Smith’s prose or plot. He portrays each character as a human being with a back story and personality: They may make choices that appall or frustrate us, but the characters are rounded and real . . . Smith resorts to no formula, and his ability to keep you guessing about what will happen next adds tension to long stretches of honed prose. He also manages to make 300 pages of relentless rain so real that you’re surprised your fingers aren’t pruney when you look up from this engrossing story.” (The Washington Post)

“Michael Farris Smith’s powerful Rivers is the kind of book that lifts you up with its mesmerizing language then pulls you under like a riptide. . . . It’s not surprising that early reviews have name-dropped Cormac McCarthy’s The Road . . . In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy [and] with meteorologists issuing doomsday scenarios about the fate of coastal cities, Rivers succeeds as both a stunning work of speculative fiction and a grim forecast of a coming national catastrophe.” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“The momentum of this book is propulsive. . . . Most impressive of all is the fact that Farris Smith managed to capture my attention with an opening line—and, for that matter, an opening passage, and an opening chapter—about the weather.” (The Paris Review)

“Anyone who was on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina will recognize the world portrayed in Rivers . . . The novel builds from this tense, atmospheric beginning to a harrowing conclusion, the kind of book that will soak into you like a relentless downpour. Smith’s storm-swept prose and desolate setting will remind readers of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but there is something in Cohen that reminds us of a Larry Brown protagonist, burned out yet determined, and something especially in his passage through the fugitive land that recalls TV’s ‘The Walking Dead’. Events like Katrina and 9/11 stoked the country’s imagination for survivalist stories like Rivers, so it seems fitting that this promising Mississippi writer has come back to the source and paid homage, in his Southern Gothic way, to the region’s bull-headed will to keep going.” (The Clarion-Ledger (Mississippi))

"While there are obvious similarities to Cormac McCarthy, Smith most puts me in mind of his fellow Mississippian Larry Brown. They share the same smooth-worn grace running toward minimalism and offhand masculine power." (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Rivers is a tale of survival and redemption in the ravaged southern land. It's a memorable story of grief and love, and new beginnings. It's also a frightening look at what climate change could do to the environment.” (The Oklahoman)

“[A] powerfully written apocalyptic tale. . . . While Rivers is already inviting inevitable comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Smith’s canvas is broader and the story even more riveting.” (Booklist)

“Smith’s vision of a post-apocalyptic society left behind by civilization is expertly executed. This world is chilling—all the more so for its believability—and it is peopled by compelling, fully realized characters, some of whom only exist in the form of ghosts. In contrast to this bleak world, Smith’s prose is lush, descriptive and even beautiful. A compelling plot, fuelled by a mounting sense of tension and hope in the face of increasing hopelessness, will keep readers engrossed to the very end.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Smith’s passion for the South is palpable, and the native Mississippian writes as if in a part homage, part plea to save the splendor of his home state. With stunning prose and nearly perfect pacing, Rivers is an uncommonly good debut, forcing the reader to consider not only the consequences of climate change but also ponder the limits of the human spirit.” (Summerset Review)

"Rivers is a novel that forces the reader to face terrifying possibilities and haunts long after the last page. Smith captures the essence of humanity in an almost post-apocalyptic world and his writing earns him a well-deserved place next to greats like William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy." (DeSoto Magazine)

“What if the devastation of Hurricane Katrina were not a one-time anomaly of ferocious weather, a crumbling infrastructure and an ineffective, incompetent national recovery response, but the first of endless waves of destructive coastal weather? What if the impact of climate change were not centuries away, but right now? . . . The satisfaction of Rivers comes from Smith's finesse in creating a realistic thriller within the fiction genre of cataclysm. His scenes are as real as 24-hour Weather Channel videos.” (ShelfAwareness.com)

“A post-apocalyptic world a la The Road by Cormac McCarthy (indeed, Smith's prose style has some of the same hard-muscled, grim texture of McCarthy's words).”— (The Quivering Pen)

“A story so powerful, I thought it was going to ignite every time I picked the damn thing up. Rivers will be compared to some of the greatest stories ever written by writers of generations past and present, but what can’t be compared is the power and skill that lie within its pages. The words will shear your eyes and brand your mind, and you’ll be scarred by what you’ve read for days, weeks, even months after. This is an important book. Pick it up—I bet you won’t be able to put it down.” (Frank Bill, author of Donnybrook and Crimes in Southern Indiana)

“Take an environmental apocalypse, blow in the cadences of Ernest Hemingway and the vision of Cormac McCarthy, sweeten it with humanity, add a Southern twang, and you might get something close to Rivers. Michael Farris Smith’s debut novel is not only a great read; it’s a significant one.” (Anne Korkeakivi, author of An Unexpected Guest)

“This novel’s greatest strength is in Smith’s deep understanding of the traditions from which his inspiration springs and his ability to transform familiar tropes into something new. Like most good literature, Rivers uses these traditions and conventions in new ways that carve out new spaces and new possibilities.” (The Steel Toe Review)

“Fiction writers often tangle with how to write about the issues shaping the world we live in—war, poverty, oppression—while still preserving the creative energy that should propel a good story forward. How do we manage to write the world we live in while writing the worlds of our imaginations? In his debut novel, Rivers, Michael Farris Smith answers that question with confidence, writing about the effects of global warming while also offering a story that is unmistakably his own. . . . Rivers is a captivating novel, and its ravaged landscape is particularly believable. Farris Smith is meticulous in detailing the reshaped Gulf Coast region, the abandoned husks of buildings, and what happens to both man and nature when a world becomes untamed. . . . Richly written and engaging.” (Bookforum)

“Skillfully depicted . . . . Rivers is a chillingly realistic read and a surreal glimpse of one possible future.” (San Francisco Book Review)

“When reading Michael Farris Smith’s debut novel, Rivers, it’s natural to see the influence that his literary predecessors, masters of prose and tone, have had on Smith’s work. No influence is more apparent than that of Cormac McCarthy. In Smith’s chilling novel . . . the author is sparse with language, poignant with details and the narrative teeters between physical and abstract worlds. . . . Smith may be following the road set by McCarthy, but Rivers differentiates itself by offering a hopeful and nostalgic tenderness in a story of endurance that is startlingly relevant to our time.” (storySouth)

“This gripping debut novel was criminally overlooked this year. Kind of a waterlogged Cormac McCarthy, it's beautifully written and very exciting.” (Lansing City Pulse)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451699425
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451699425
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #986,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Farris Smith is the author of DESPERATION ROAD (2017), RIVERS (2013), and THE HANDS OF STRANGERS (2011). He is the recipient of the MLA's Mississippi Author Award for Fiction. RIVERS was named to numerous Best of the Year lists and his short fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Mississippi with his wife and daughters.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I liked this book, and it was a good mix of escapism and strong writing. I will say that after the first 10 pages, I wondered if Cormac McCarthy was writing under a pen-name; but then I blinked and I was on page 93 (where the title above is quoted - my favorite line in the book). So I knew it was a good one.

Author Michael Farris Smith obeyed Elmore Leonard's rule - 'don't write what the reader's skip.' So the narrative is heavy on character, dialogue and activity, and the pages fly by. You know how people say, 'I couldn't put it down!' Well, I really didn't put it down - I finished it one long day and evening. It's fast paced, and he does a good job of parceling out a variety of twists and adventures so when one arc concludes, it leads right into another one.

If you're a McCarthy fan (and Smith clearly is), you'll appreciate Smith's specific style of writing: "When he was dressed, he walked into the kitchen and took a bottle of water from a cooler that sat where the refrigerator used to be and he drank half in one take and then put the bottle back into the cooler." If you've read McCarthy's "Blood Meridian (which I liked)," you'll recognize the patterns.

It's easy to make a comparison to McCarthy's apocalyptic "The Road," but "Rivers" is FAR superior (the books share a few plotlines). "Rivers" is simply more interesting, with better characters, a more developed concept and better writing. If you liked "Road" (I didn't), I think you'll really enjoy "Rivers." Also, James Lee Burke's excellent "The Tin Roof Blowdown" was probably an inspiration - one that Smith built on in a non-derivative way.

I appreciated the dystopian concept - that weather patterns have basically rendered everything south of Mississipi's northern border uninhabitable.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rivers, a novel by Michael Farris Smith is one of the most intense novels I have ever read. If I could give it 6 stars instead of 5 I would. The story takes place in the not so distant future in Louisiana. Weather patterns across the U.S. had changed over several years until hurricane after hurricane came ashore, one after the other. The storms destroyed much of the south with most people having been evacuated. The story revolves around one man who decided to remain and his encounters with others who likewise stayed or for one reason or another came back. Lawlessness and the lowest depths of humanity begin to take over. This is a well conceived and written adventure novel with great emotion and solid memorable characters.
This is not a story of just good fighting evil, a black and white Rambo story, but rather a real look at humanity in the face of desperation. It is also a love story that will bring many readers to tears. Smith is a writer of many gifts. I highly recommend Rivers.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One of the joys of being a "Vine" member is the opportunity to preview special novels by new writers prior to their publication. "Rivers" by Michael Farris Smith is something that is so powerful in so many ways that I hope my review encourages others to order this future award winning novel. This book will be on the list of award winners when 2013 closes because it is so unique and so current.
This book has many elements. The story opens as an ecological disaster story in which hurricanes and torrential and unrelenting rain has turned the deep South into a nearly uninhabitable area. We find our main character Cohen living in his damaged home with only his dog and a horse as company while he mourns the death of his wife and unborn daughter. The author opens up the complex Cohen slowly throughout the entire novel as we learn surprising and shocking things about his past and his current motivations.
His world is one where he scavenges supplies and needs from unusual sources such as a man named Charlie who is the living general store in a part of the country which has virtually been abandoned by the Federal government.Most of the population have headed toward "The Line" where they can live in a more normal world with electricity, food and support. Why some stay on the wrong side of "The Line" is fascinating as we begin to meet other characters.
Cohen picks up a young man and young girl and what happens after that changes the entire course of his life and becomes the driving force that moves the drama forward.
Things are taken from Cohen that he is determined to retrieve including family and personal items and we don't really understand why he is so motivated until late in the book where some shocking surprises occur.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a very good novel. The premise that years of constant devastating storms followed Katrina, causing the US to cede the Southeast and Mississippi River region to Mother Nature, was the main factor which drew my attention initially. Most people left the area, but a few remained for various reasons from personal loss to a preference for lawlessness to creating alternative ways of life.

The storms and rain are an ever-present backdrop, but the book maintains the reader's interest by constantly advancing in unexpected directions. Several times I expected the current plot situation to remain all the way to the end of the book, only to find it was just a passing phase of the novel. Characters take unexpected actions as they cope with chaos, and dealing with killing a person is a theme which repeats.

The book managed to be both suspenseful and thought-provoking when many books fail to do either.
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