Mysterious Book Report Desperation RoadDesperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Lee Boudreaux Books/Little Brown and Company, $26.00, 287 pages, ISBN 978-0-316-35303-8

Some writers have such a firm understanding of their sense of place and are able to write about it with such authenticity, that the reader is transported there in mind as she or he processes the printed words . . . almost seeing, hearing, and touching the people, places and events of the story as it unfolds. This weeks MBR number 286 features such an author, who speaks and writes so genuinely of his home in small town Mississippi that readers everywhere will almost feel as if they were born and brought up there.

Desperation Road, by Michael Farris Smith, is his third novel and an outstanding example of gothic southern noir. Oh yeah . . . he’s that good. He’s that good because he respects the craft of writing and the use of language to paint a word picture of people in pain, trying to put their shattered lives back together after tragic mistakes upended them.

The novel begins with a man named Russell Gaines riding the bus home from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, down in the delta. It’s where he’s just completed an eleven year sentence for drunk driving and vehicular homicide. Russell thinks he’s paid his debt—in full—and wants to put his life back together. But waiting for his return are the two older brothers of the man he killed . . . and they’re determined to get revenge.

At the same time, a homeless woman named Maben and her young little daughter are walking to the interstate in the broiling hot sun. She’s carrying everything they own in a black plastic garbage bag, hoping for something better when they get to the place where Maben grew up. Exhausted and down to their last few dollars, they hole up in a cheap motel where mother and daughter are hoping for rest and respite. But the night ends for Maben with a hot pistol in her hand as she runs through the dark, and a dead deputy sheriff behind her.

As all their lives collide and destinies intertwine, the moral choices become fewer and fewer and more complex at the same time as the story plays out in an electrifying conclusion. The prose is lyrical, the setting magical and the drama unforgettable.


John Dwaine McKenna