Book Review: Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

Rivers by Michael Farris SmithTitle: Rivers

Author: Michael Farris Smith

Genre: Apocalyptic, Speculative fiction

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: September 2013

Hardback: 333 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought

Before I start, I just want to say that I know the author of this book. He was actually one of my professors at my undergraduate university, Mississippi University for Women. I will also say that I read his previously published novella, The Hands of Strangers, and I was not a fan (I’m sorry, Dr. Smith! Don’t hate me!). I wanted to say this so that if you were aware I knew the author, you did not think that my review had been swayed in any way.

So let’s start with a brief synopsis:

In a frightening, realistic, and apocalyptic future, the Gulf Coast has been battered and destroyed by a series of unrelenting hurricanes. Given up on the future of the region, the US Government has drawn “The Line”, a geographical boundary 90 miles inland that cuts off the coast from the rest of the country. Residents were warned that once the line was drawn, all laws, protection, and any rights of the residents in the region would be lost. Staying would be done at your own risk.

Cohen stayed. Somehow he is able to make a sort of life for himself, along with his dog and horse, in the home where he and his now-dead wife lived. While returning after a trip for supplies, he is carjacked and his Jeep and supplies are stolen by two teenagers, one boy and one girl. When he returns home, he sees that the same fate has befallen his house, obviously by the two who’d tried to kill him earlier. They’ve invaded the part of his house he’d blocked off: the room he’d shared with his wife and the room they’d been using to store the clothes and toys for their unborn child. He feels extremely violated and sets off to find the teenagers and get back what is his.

He finds them, Mariposa and Evan, but is shocked to find that they are being kept by an evil man who believes he is doing them, and the other women he’s locked up there, a favor by providing them shelter and food. Aggie, the man who has declared himself their savior, keeps them in trailers locked from the outside, and Evan, along with his younger brother Briscoe, are the only other males there. You can probably assume what Aggie wants with them (hint: there are two pregnant women).

Now that Cohen is there though, everything will change. A monster storm is coming and it’s the worst one yet.

What I thought:

Holy shit. Excuse my language, but holy shit. Be prepared to set the next few hours aside once you start reading Rivers, because it’ll suck you in with the first page and it won’t want to let you out until you’re done. Much like the storms that have ravaged the Gulf in the book, Rivers will be relentless in its hold on you.

Smith’s writing (it was really hard to not put a Dr. in front of that. Old habits and all that) is just beautiful. The prose is winding and bleak and haunting. The words wrap you up in them and force you to feel the desolation, loss, hunger, and pain that everyone in the book feels. Yes, there is a lot of “and this and that and that happened”, which sounds like it would be quite annoying, but it isn’t. His prose has a rhythm and a cadence to the sentences that make it practically impossible not to keep reading. There’s a lot of really lovely yet haunting descriptions, and you really feel and sympathize with what the characters are going through. One of my favorite sentences:

For two hours they had been moving back toward the coast, the hurricane forceful and gathering strength and the endless black night and the pounding of the rain and the wind and the twisting and turning across the beaten land and all he could think about was how alone he felt and it hurt like a broken bone. –Rivers, page 300

There were several lines that I reread a few times because I just loved the way they were phrased and how they almost felt like music. I will say, however, that a couple of times, the long sentences and multiple descriptions were a little much. It made it hard to read at my natural pace. The book is also, as I’m sure you can guess, rather depressing and it felt heavy in my mind.

On the other hand, because of this, the reader can feel the characters’ discomfort and their pain. Through Smith’s words, you feel waterlogged and filthy and all that they experience. The prose is just as brutal to the reader as Mother Nature has been to these characters. All of the characters are just so absolutely human, which I think is one of the reasons it was so hard to read. I don’t mean that I didn’t like it; I mean that you can relate so well to the emotions of each of these characters that it was difficult to see. I hope that makes sense.

The novel is so haunting, at least to me, because it feels like something that could actually happen. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy (though that wasn’t in the South), it is easy to see a future in which the storms just don’t stop. Rivers creates a realistic and terrifying future for the Gulf Coast.

The bottom line:

I think you probably get the picture, but just in case: I LOVED Rivers. The future it has created is frightening, extremely well-written, and haunting. You will find it difficult to put this book down until you turn the last page. But even then, I doubt this one will leave you.

Rating: 9 – Practically Perfect (I would have given it a 10 but for those parts when it was just so heavy)

You can find out more about Michael Farris Smith on his website or follow him on Twitter.

Reading next: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Adult Fiction Picks if I Was in a Book Club | Caught Read Handed

  2. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated authors and books | Caught Read Handed

  3. I don’t tend to gravitate toward this kind of heavy book (there are exceptions), but your review makes me at least consider it.
    BTW, I read The Giver yesterday. I’ve written a post about it, which will go up 5/8/14. I’ll just say this – I ordered the rest of The Quarter this morning. 😉

  4. “you feel waterlogged and filthy and all that they experience” – this is exactly how I felt! Such great writing that really draws you in. It’s the kind of book that is so heavy and so deep that when you finish or look up for a break, you feel like you’ve just awoken from a deep sleep or nap.

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