Desperation Road

A butterfly squirms in a web. Even if it escapes, remnants of the entanglement will hang on to cripple all efforts to survive. This early scene in Michael Farris Smith's Desperation Road is mere paragraphs, but the author skillfully casts an unrelenting web over his characters through nearly 300 bleak yet dazzling pages of life struggle.

Returning to McComb, Miss., after 11 years in prison, Russell Gaines is trying to assimilate, with the support of his father. Still, the web pulls on him in the guises of his former fiancée and a vengeful family whose lives he changed irrevocably. Russell isn't looking for redemption when his troubled path introduces him to Maben, a woman on the run. She seems to have been born in a web, and though she tries desperately to break free from constant abuse and create a life for her young daughter, brutality continues to threaten her.

Russell finds meaning in the idea that "the things he could put his hands on needed someone to put out those hands." But rough lives only get rougher, and the slightest breeze could push them further into disaster.

Smith (Rivers) is incredibly gifted; emotion and poetry soak his straightforward prose, its easy flow masking the precision behind every word. He imbues the everyday slog of difficult lives with reverence and grace, painting the faintest glimmer of hope in opportunities lost and prices paid for flying too close to the web. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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