Author Michael Farris Smith is one of those rare writers who uses language as setting. He opens his fifth novel, Blackwood, in the year 1975 with “The “foulrunning Cadillac arrived chugging into the town limits of Red Bluff, the car having struggled out of the Delta flatlands and into the Mississippi hill country, the ups and downs of the landscape pushing the roughriding vehicle beyond what was left of its capabilities.” Off the bat, the reader knows the stage is set for bad luck and hard times for the drifters come to town. Farris Smith doesn’t snow us with a glimmer of hope, he hands us the premise as a matter of fact. Then the story deepens. Blackwood is a story of loners and outsiders thrown together seemingly by chance. They’d like to connect but lack the fundamental knowledge of how, as each manages their individual vortex trying not to drown in their common sphere.
Red Bluff, Mississippi is lackluster to the point where the town gives away abandoned, downtown storefronts to anyone willing to maintain one. Colburn, haunted by his past, calls himself an industrial sculptor. He returns to the seat of his loveless childhood in his flatbed, looking for scrap metal and such to fashion into art in one of Main Street’s cast-offs. He is looking for something. He wants to confront the demons of his past, and in his search, reunites with a will-o-the-wisp bar owner named Celia, in an attraction so conflicted, it exhumes his childhood pain.
Myer wears his pantlegs tucked in his boots and walks with a limp. He is Red Bluff’s weary law enforcement who gives too little too late to the town’s drifters, who take to the kudzu tangled woods on the edge of town where something sinister lurks.
Rich in tenor, setting, metaphor, and dark imagery, Blackwood is an intricately woven, gritty story of disconnected lives unwittingly affecting each other in repercussive ways, written is language so bleakly mood-setting, reading its pages becomes a state of mind.
Many a luminous author has called Oxford, Mississippi’s Michael Farris Smith one of the best writers of his generation. And he is. And Blackwood proves it.
Blackwood Releases March 3rd at all book outlets