3.07.2014

Rivers, by Michael Farris Smith

Rivers
Storm after storm has devastated the Gulf coast in Michael Farris Smith's Rivers. The American government will not, or maybe cannot, pay to rebuild one more time only to see it all destroyed. So they drew a line and retreated. Anyone who stayed below the line was officially on their own.

The Line has been in place for a few years by the time Rivers opens. Cohen has been living in the house he shared with his life and isn't doing too badly, considering the Mad Max-like conditions a lot of other people are living below the Line. A nameless dog and a horse named Habana keep Cohen company. He meets with Charlie, who braves the wild territory of Mississippi chasing a rumor of buried casino money, to get food, gas, and other supplies.

Cohen might have been able to carry on for years like that if he hadn't stopped to pick up two teenagers who looked like they needed help. The teenagers ask him for a ride, then attack and nearly kill him. By the time Cohen gets home, his house has been ransacked. He can replace the food, but he can't replace the shoebox of photos, documents, and other mementos of his deceased wife. Cohen saddles up Habana and sets off to track down the two teens. Little does he know but this act is just the beginning of dangerous adventure involving a homegrown pseudo-cult, mercenaries, and tempests.

Smith lets Cohen tell most of the story in hypnotic chapters, full of run on sentences. The sentences take you into the mind of a man who spends too much time on his own. Smith's style is the opposite of the stripped down dystopias we've seen in recent years. The style takes some getting used to, especially if you're an English major who was taught to seek an destroy run on sentences. After a while, I enjoyed the way the verbs and nouns stumbled over one another. Our internal monologues don't follow Strunk and White, after all.

Rivers bucks a lot of the other trends I've seen in other dystopia. The plot twists and turns in unpredictable ways. The rich language can make you feel as cold and wet as Cohen and his companions as they struggle north towards the Line. It's impossible not to get caught up in this story.

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