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Desperation Road Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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From the Publisher
Author Ivy Pochoda In Conversation With Michael Farris Smith
ICP: The title of your novel is Desperation Road yet throughout you hint at the possibility of redemption. Was this a balance you meant to strike or a natural evolution of following your characters?
MFS: I think most of what I do is a natural evolution, as if you're sitting right next to your characters, discovering what they discover and dealing with their trials as they come. I've been asked about how dark my work can be, and I agree that I have the tendency to go down some very dark roads, but for me that is when the light has the most possibility. It becomes something that the characters will do anything, just absolutely anything, to attain. That willingness to keep fighting, along with the unpredictable things desperate people will do, is what makes them interesting characters to walk alongside.
ICP: I like the idea of sitting right next to your characters—essentially getting to know them as you create them. Did you understand much about the relationship between Russell and Maben before you started writing? Did the characters come to you together or separately?
MFS: What kickstarted the novel was the image of Maben and Annalee trudging along the side of the interstate with the sun beating down. And once I made it through their night at the truck stop and they were on the run, I needed to catch my breath from the tension of that scenario, so I rolled Russell into town. Then I had two people returning to the same hometown, one coming up I-55 and the other coming down I-55, both with turbulent pasts. I knew a collision was coming, it just couldn't be avoided, and the reason for it eventually revealed itself with a loud bang.
ICP: I loved how the natural world kept sneaking into the narrative even during the characters’ lowest moments. Were you conscious of this?
MFS: I think the only conscious part about it was that down in this part of the world, in South Mississippi, where miles and miles separate one town from the next, the natural world is always right there with you. The swamps of Russell's childhood, his father's place out in the country with the pond and acreage, the lonesome highway where Maben and Annalee struggle along, the depth of the night sky away from artificial light, this is all part of the lives of the characters, just as much as what they say and do. And I love having the natural world participating as its own character in the novels I both write and read. Russell and Maben and Larry have all been shaped by the landscape, and that landscape has to make its presence felt.
ICP: Your use of the statue of the Virgin Mary has really stuck with me. How did your mind come to rest on this gripping image?
MFS: I was interested in various paths for redemption as the story went along and tensions mounted. I'm a firm believer in piling on your characters until the point that something has to give, the dam has to burst, or however you want to put it. The statue had been an earlier image in the story and it lingered in the background, almost as if it was eavesdropping on what was going on between Russell and his father. I think that by the time we get to the final scene, some of those paths to redemption have appeared, but they are still a little bit overgrown. The image of the statue in the last scene, with the sun settling behind it, was such a strong visual that I couldn't help but drift toward it.
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)
About the Author
Michael Farris Smith is the author of Desperation Road, Rivers and The Hands of Strangers and is the recipient of the 2014 Mississippi Author Award. His short fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his essays have appeared in the New York Times, Catfish Alley, Deep South Magazine, and more. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife and two daughters.
Top customer reviews
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Russell, Maben, and Larry remind me of that feeling of dread when you watch the weather forecast and see a tornado watch. You know it's out there, so you wait for the sighting. A fast, vivid read filled with so much emotion, it grabs you a never lets you go. Southern literature is one of my favorite genres and small town life is perfectly described, right down to every summer night spent with high school friends and the hurt of first love.