by Catherine Arjet
assistant arts and life editor
On Thursday, Nov. 20, Millsaps’ Visiting Writers Series hosted Michael Farris Smith, author of the critically acclaimed novel Rivers. The event featured an introduction by Richard Boada, a reading from Rivers and a Q&A session.
Although at first glance, Rivers appears to be a dystopian novel, Smith says he originally intended it as a Southern Gothic novel, drawing influence from the old Southern greats like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, as well as more contemporary authors like Cormac MaCarthy, author of the 2006 novel The Road. Smith says that the novel has actually been classified as seven different genres, ranging from gothic and thriller, to wilderness survival.
Set in Smith’s native Mississippi Gulf Coast, the novel imagines a world where Hurricane Katrina was the start of a series of never-ending storms that caused the U.S. government to cut the Deep South off from the rest of the country. In this grim world, Smith’s protagonist, Cohen, must survive the onslaught of rain and wind and the people who inhabit the ruins of Mississippi all while mourning the loss of his wife and unborn child.
“My whole emphasis for this story … was to lay on my characters as much as I could lay on the to see if they could take it,” Smith said of the bleak back-drop to his novel. “Nobody is easy to figure out when your girlfriend gave you a kiss on the check, you found a $20 bill in your pocket, that night you saw the best movie ever and you ate great pizza all the way home,” Smith continued. “But you let the sh*t hit the fan, and that’s when you find what they’re made of.”
But despite the trials Smith puts his characters through, and all the horrible condition they live in, he says he believes that “for all the darkness, [Rivers] is about hope.”