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Following years of devastating storms, the new boundary line for the United States has been drawn ninety miles north of the Gulf Coast. The government is no longer able to provide services or protection for people living in the storm ravaged areas, leaving them to their own devices. Cohen is bound to his Mississippi home by the loss of his wife and unborn child, but is forced to leave his land when his supplies are stolen by a pair of young thieves. While tracking them down, he discovers a group of survivors led by a disturbing preacher determined to breathe life to the area through the women he is holding captive. Faced with the task of saving the preacher’s victims and heading north, but restricted by his past and his secrets, Cohen makes his journey through the relentless landscape of Michael Farris Smith’s Rivers.
The pages of Smith’s novel are filled with the deceptively simple, richly layered sentences that trace his characters’ thoughts, both past and present. While much of Rivers is true to the grim tones common in dystopian fiction, there is a thread of hope running through the novel directly connected to Smith’s brilliantly developed characters. It is that thread that leads readers along what might otherwise be a path too bleak to take.
“The children of his dreams were both girls and boys, sometimes blond and sometimes dark-haired, sometimes loud and rambunctious and sometimes tender and mild. The children of his dreams were never wet and never cold and they had shadows because they had sunshine.”
While attempts to compare and pigeonhole Rivers will surely be made, there is much more to Smith’s novel than surface level similarities. One of the most hauntingly distinctive aspects of the novel is its realistic setting. Though seemingly endless apocalyptic stories have been written in recent years, the depleted and divided land Smith creates does not feel far off. Rather than wandering an Earth scorched by a mysterious disease or unknown savagery, Cohen is plagued by the same disastrous storms Americans encounter today.
Michael Farris Smith has skillfully filled his violent, dangerous tale with hope and love, making Rivers a stand out, unforgettable read.