Welcome to my spot on the book blog tour for Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me.
Publication Date: 19th March 2020. ISBN-13:978-0857303905. Available from all good book retailers.
This is the first novel I have read by this author, so wasn’t sure what the style of writing would be like, or whether it would grab me or not. Well I didn’t have to worry there. As soon as I read the first chapter I was hooked. An absolute 5⭐️ read that had me gripped from start to finish.
The opening chapter starts in summer 1956 in the Mississippi Hill Country and really packs a punch especially for a young boy Colburn. Whose life is changed forever that fateful day. But then we jump to 1976 with an equally gripping punch, as unnamed drifters arrive into the small dying town of Red Bluff, a man, woman and child. Their car a battered old Cadillac breaks down just as they roll in, pulling into a parking lot. They have already dropped a baby off at an earlier town they had passed through, unable to afford to keep him, they have no money, ragged clothes, desperate, and hungry. They sit among all their worldly possessions, empty food cans, ragged filthy blankets.
But Red Bluff, is not a town I would want to settle in, with the kudzu vines which are taking over, they have swallowed homes, secrets are hidden, giving a very gothic feel to the surrounding area, a haunting, bleak place. Whilst the vines continue to grow covering past secrets, waiting to take more…
The now grown Colburn returns to Red Bluff, after seeing a poster offering free rent on abandoned storefronts to artists, Colburn is now a sculptor, and goes around the town collecting odd bits of metal, that people have thrown out, hub caps any scrap he can mould into something.
Sheriff Myer is not happy, he’s over weight, has a bad back and well past his prime, he wants the family in the Cadillac gone, but trying to get any information from this trio is not an easy task. He makes it clear they need to leave the next day, he even offers to get the car started just to see the back of them. Next morning he thinks they have left, but no they are there, the car is hiding in the kudzu, and this isn’t the end of this family. Could he have done more?
The story gets darker still when two young boys disappear twins, the town goes from being nowhere, to being somewhere as news crews descend on the town, but they wouldn’t be there if the twins hadn’t disappeared, and they leave as quick as they arrive.
The woman and boy from the car are seen each day pushing a shopping trolley looking for thrown out food, empty bottles, then it’s just the boy. Celia owns the Red Bluff tavern, the only bar, she starts to feed the boy each day, Colburn also goes to the bar and finds love with Celia, who knows more about Colburn, and his father..
The whole story is brilliantly crafted, the description of the kudzu, is so haunting, the story is emotional, every scene stays in your mind as you read on, hoping that something good is going to happen, but there is just this feeling of doom, lingering, the is a story that stays in your mind even after you have finished reading.
It was nothing like I expected, the prose so well written, sending shivers down the spine, I had to look up kudzu as all I could think of was an ivy like plant that just weaves it’s way around things and takes a hold. If you like a haunted, gothic, read this is a book I would highly recommend. with a real emotional ending that had me in tears.
The town of Red Bluff, Mississippi, has seen better days, though those who’ve held on have little memory of when that was. Myer, the county’s aged, sardonic lawman, still thinks it can prove itself- when confronted by a strange family of drifters, the sheriff believes that the people of Red Bluff can be accepting, rational, even good.
The opposite is true: this is a landscape of fear and ghosts – of regret and violence – transformed by the kudzu vines that have enveloped the hills around it, swallowing homes, cars, rivers, and hiding a terrible secret deeper still.
Colburn, a junkyard sculptor who’s returned to Red Bluff, knows this pain all too well, though he too is willing to hope for more when he meets and falls in love with Celia, the local bar owner. The Deep South gives these noble, broken, and driven folks the gift of human connection while bestowing upon them the crippling weight of generations. With broken histories and vagabond hearts, the townsfolk wrestle with the evil in the woods – and the wickedness that lurks in each and every one of us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Farris Smith is the author of The Fighter, Desperation Road, Rivers, and The Hands of Strangers. He has been awarded the Mississippi Author Award for Fiction, Transatlantic Review Award, and Brick Streets Press Story Award. His novels have appeared on Best of the Year lists with Esquire, Southern Living, Book Riot, and numerous others. He has been a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, the Gold Dagger Award in the UK, and the Grand Prix des Lectrices in France, and his essays have appeared with The New York Times, Bitter Southerner, Garden & Gun, and more. He lives with his wife and daughters in Oxford, Mississippi
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