cover image Desperation Road

Desperation Road

Michael Farris Smith. LB/Boudreaux, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-35303-8

Like those in his 2013 novel, Rivers, the characters in Smith’s latest struggle to put the past behind them—but this time, the storms that have torn their lives apart are mostly of their own making. Russell Gaines has served 11 years in prison for killing a man while driving drunk. Released, he rides the bus back to his home in McComb, Miss., only to be beaten and threatened with revenge by the dead man’s brothers. That same evening, homeless onetime addict Maben Jones also heads toward McComb. Without cash and transport, she leaves her young daughter, Annalee, sleeping in a cheap motel and tries to turn some tricks in the parking lot. Instead, a deputy abducts and rapes her. Grabbing his gun, Maben shoots him to death and flees the scene. As she tries to protect Annalee and evade capture, her path and Russell’s cross—but whether they will help or just endanger each other is far from clear. The plot’s gritty outlines notwithstanding, Smith is a meticulous craftsman who evokes his protagonists and their world with patience and subtlety. Ultimately, the road of the novel’s title moves not just through desperation, but also into a tentative landscape of hope, and perhaps even redemption. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (Feb.)