Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SALVAGE THIS WORLD by Michael Farris Smith Kirkus Star


by Michael Farris Smith

Pub Date: April 25th, 2023
ISBN: 9780316413633
Publisher: Little, Brown

A theft and a deadly chase darken the lives of a young family.

“The Gulf Coast region had begun to take on a hurricane every few months. There was no longer an off season.” In a region blighted by foul weather, a man named Holt hooks up with the revivalist Temple of Pain and Glory until he goes sour on the money-grubbing hellfire homilies purveyed by its leader, Elser. He steals from her a pair of black keys and ignites a relentless manhunt that also targets Jessie, the young woman whom Holt met during his fugitive years, and their son. When Holt abandons her, leaving the keys, Jessie turns to her estranged father. The keys may be connected to a mystical child Elser cites in her sermons “who has the ability to control the weather” and to some Southern-gothic place called the Bottom. Smith’s last outing, Nick (2021), was an audacious prequel to The Great Gatsby with a harrowing section in New Orleans. But five of his six novels are closely related in themes, blue-collar cast, and settings in Louisiana and Mississippi. This new work suggests a prequel to his first novel, Rivers (2013), a tale of greed and desperation set in a Gulf Coast region so storm-ravaged that Washington calls for permanent evacuation. In Blackwood (2020), Smith revisited characters from The Fighter (2018). Maybe he’s building his own Faulkner-esque universe around his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. So far it looks to be a grim corpus in which bad luck and bad choices—and the exceptionally foul weather of Rivers and this book—erode lives to a raw minimum. Yet Smith’s tense, brooding narratives also reveal a terrible beauty in his characters’ struggles to flee or defeat the cruelty and violence they face, to find moments in which hope and love are more than memories.

An exceptional storyteller in top form.