Review: Rivers

Oh man! I mean, OH MAN! Tear my heart out, why don'cha, Michael Farris Smith!

I first heard of Smith and his debut novel Rivers on a Twitter chat where they were featured. It was an interesting chat, so I checked the author website and first pages, and decided it was worth looking closer. I am not at all sorry.

Rivers is a near-future dystopia. (And a thriller. And a literary novel. People who know me know how happy this is making me already.) Climate change has brought about an almost non-stop barrage of hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast states and as they increase in frequency and strength, the American government gives up. They draw a line ninety miles north of the coast, evacuate all but the most recalcitrant, and suspend all government services below the Line. Cohen is one of the most recalcitrant. He refuses the expropriation offers, ignores evacuation attempts, and holds out in one of the few houses left standing, riding out one hurricane after another. After all, he has a house. He has money. Most of all, he has ghosts, ghosts he doesn't want to leave.

Smith's mostly spare prose is haunting in its impact, as Cohen moves through the non-stop rain, eventually reaching a tipping point. He decides to leave, a group of women and children in tow. He is up against predators, mostly human, increasingly violent weather, and a host of logistic challenges that are monsters in and of themselves. There is a twist that I maybe should have seen coming but didn't, and flashbacks to a sunny vacation in Venice.

I often binge-read, devouring a novel in only one or two sittings. It was impossible with Rivers. I needed a break from the intensity and all that rain. Do not mistake this for a complaint or a criticism. It is a masterful book, which hits all the bases I look for to deserve the moniker of Gourmet Reading: superb understated prose, powerful characterization, and a plot that keeps me turning pages. In this case you can throw in an incredible depiction of the setting as a bonus.

So yes, if you are a fan of anything but light fluff, read this book!

Michael Farris Smith's website

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