Michael Farris Smith
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Buy *Rivers* by Michael Farris Smithonline

Michael Farris Smith
Simon and Schuster
352 pages
September 2013
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Set in a future where climate has redefined the parameters of American life, Smith plunges his characters into an apocalyptic nightmare that is—unfortunately—not beyond possibility: a series of storms decimating the Southern coastline and rendering it uninhabitable. The damage is so pervasive that the government has drawn a “Line,” a geological boundary ninety miles north of the coastline from the Texas-Louisiana border across the Mississippi coast to Alabama. Anyone below that line is without law or resources in a no-man’s land of survivalists, rebels, misfits, criminals and opportunists. While most stranded below the line have been unable to travel to safety, others are drawn by lawlessness and opportunity.

The raging, incessant storms have slowly annihilated everything below the Line. Trees have been felled by the weight of their waterlogged limbs, soggy buildings collapsing in the mud, rivers swelling, obliterating roads and bridges, a great swirling mass of detritus and death. Far below the Line, Cohen remains inside the four walls of a disintegrating home. His supplies are stored, guns and ammunition at hand, and he is visited only by memories of his wife and their unborn child, killed during a storm. The baby’s room remains unfinished, boarded up and rotting. Cohen dreams of what might have been, unable to leave it behind, harboring a will to survive and a secret. With only the occasional trip in his Jeep to buy supplies from Charlie, an entrepreneur who believes the tales of money buried by evacuating casinos, Cohen is unable to leave his love or their lost future.

After purchasing what he needs from Charlie’s armed caravan, Cohen encounters a boy and girl begging a ride along the road. Against his better judgment, Cohen gives them a lift and, in spite of precautions, learns the folly of his generosity. Left for dead, his Jeep stolen, Cohen struggles back to his cabin only to find it raided, no doubt by the two strangers and their cohorts. Everything is gone but his dog, his horse, and the determination to make his attackers return the few precious items he has salvaged from the life now denied him. Cohen’s journey to recover his goods reveals a society reverted to its basest instincts. Life above the Line is immaterial to those below, from Charlie, who will not give up his hunt for buried treasure, to Aggie, a delusional religious fanatic who sees the land’s devastation as God’s assistance in achieving his ambitions.

Ensconced in a ring of government trailers tethered by ropes against the storms, Aggie rules his small enclave, a violent demagogue who locks his female captives in their trailers, meting punishment and reward as a means of order. It is to Aggie that Evan and Mariposa return with the booty from Cohen, Aggie who strips Cohen’s shack of everything useful. It is to here that Cohen tracks the two strangers, forced to break with the past to survive the present. Though his wife’s image haunts his dreams, Cohen is called back to the world at Aggie’s camp, facing a madman and his unwilling entourage, the respite from nature’s attacks few and short-lived, the hammering rain incessant and maddening.

A reluctant hero thrust into the mayhem below the Line, Cohen has meant to spend his days with wife and child, a builder. But nature’s fury also unleashes man’s basest instincts, all of which thrive in lawlessness. With one foot in the past and the other in the present, Cohen is never truly committed to either. His hidden flaw, the secret he harbors, jeopardizes the promise he has tumbled upon in a harrowing confrontation with the murderous passions of a mob. Whatever exists above the Line, below it all is chaos, a world gone mad. Neither parable nor cautionary tale, this Old Testament scenario in modern dress where an angry god wreaks havoc on recalcitrant fools offers hope and redemption, but not without first traversing the hell of our own making.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2013

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