Blackwood
In this timeless, mythical tale of unforgiving justice and elusive grace, rural Mississippi townsfolk shoulder the pain of generations as something dangerous lurks in the enigmatic kudzu of the woods.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.

Blackwood Details

TitleBlackwood
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 3rd, 2020
PublisherLittle, Brown and Company
ISBN-139780316529815
Rating
GenreFiction, Mystery, Horror, Gothic, Southern Gothic

Blackwood Review

  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    The talented Michael Farris Smith's latest Southern gothic novel is hard edged, gritty, and uncompromising in its bleak vision and darkness with its anatomy of a dying small town, Red Bluff, at which unnamed drifters, a man, woman and boy arrive after their car breaks down. They have discarded one young boy earlier, unable to afford to keep him, they are ragged, desperate, and starving. Smith asks deep philosophical and religious questions in his narrative, as the drifters settle amidst the lush The talented Michael Farris Smith's latest Southern gothic novel is hard edged, gritty, and uncompromising in its bleak vision and darkness with its anatomy of a dying small town, Red Bluff, at which unnamed drifters, a man, woman and boy arrive after their car breaks down. They have discarded one young boy earlier, unable to afford to keep him, they are ragged, desperate, and starving. Smith asks deep philosophical and religious questions in his narrative, as the drifters settle amidst the lush landscape of kudzu vines, vines that harbour the past, secrets, swallowing homes and any signs of humanity with ease. It's a veritable Garden of Eden, with its original sin, with its serpent of horror, the sinister, bearing the heavy weight of history and past generations. This is a tale of broken people, of despair, physical and mental pain, madness and guilt, of lives forged in hell and tragedy.As a boy in 1956, Colbert experiences a disturbing trauma, he is now returning to Red Bluff in 1976, responding to the town's offer of free abandoned storefronts for musicians, writers and artists, in return for maintaining the building. He is a junkyard sculptor with an inner need to understand his past, thinking no-one will remember him, in fact it seems as if no-one has forgotten him. Sheriff Myer wanted to help the drifters move on, and seeing they are not going to, feels the town will respond to their needs. He is to be sorely disappointed as the woman and boy scavenge among the garbage, to be judged, rejected and found wanting. Celia, the bar owner tries to feed the boy, but he is like a wild animal and takes a while before taking up her offer. Colbert finds love when he least expected to, but the trauma from the past still has him in its hold. As madness, loss, violence and grief take their toll, we see souls seeking evidence that they exist, some form of connection with others, rather than the neglect and indifference that is their lot. Smith's harsh realism portrays a town that only acts when twin boys go missing, followed by the disappearance of Celia. What lurks hidden amongst the Kudzu vines is the terror of nightmares, a malignant presence that pulsates with a life and a voice of its own. There is little in the way of light, but there are glimmers of hope, love and redemption in the depiction of a town, broken folk, and splintered families. This is a utterly gripping read, of lost dreams and lives, of never ending pain and misery, a litany of life's horrors that its impossible to look away from, an allegory of the troubled and disturbing world we live in today. A must read that packs a huge punch and which I recommend highly. Many thanks to No Exit Press and Oldcastle Books.
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  • Elyse Walters
    January 1, 1970
    NO SPOILERS... 🍃Lock your doors and watch your children.... ....this book is batty-bonkers meshuggah- FANTASTIC!...MICHAEL FARRIS SMITH is a writer-rock-star!!!Ive read everyone of his books - loved each one - and Blackwood tops them all!!Its tempting to share details - but the less you know the better. Blackwood starts with two gripping beginning scenes: 1956....Then jumps to 1975: with another gripping scene. Both scenes never leave the readers thoughts Then.... .....the action kept moving NO SPOILERS... 🍃Lock your doors and watch your children.... ....this book is batty-bonkers meshuggah- FANTASTIC!...MICHAEL FARRIS SMITH is a writer-rock-star!!!I’ve read everyone of his books - loved each one - and “Blackwood” tops them all!!It’s tempting to share details - but the less you know the better. “Blackwood” starts with two gripping beginning scenes: 1956....Then jumps to 1975: with another gripping scene. Both scenes never leave the readers thoughts — Then.... .....the action kept moving and moving— giving us an extraordinary-emotional ending. “Red Bluff had gone from being nowhere to being somewhere in only hours. The fear and heartbreak had awaken the sleepy town with gut punches of emotion and the television crews that came and the reporters who asked questions to whoever they could get to talk on the sidewalk and the police and the detectives who moved in and out of the café and the post office and the gas stations in their white shirts and black ties were all symbolic and clear in their message— we would not be here unless tragedy has befallen”. Michael Farris Smith - Mississippi guy - is SUCH A PHENOMENAL writer!!!His books are a treat - and ‘Blackwood’ is the icing on the cake!!!A 2020 book-FAVORITE!!! 🍃Thank you Little Brown and Company, Netgalley, and Michael Farris Smith
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  • Brenda -Traveling Sister
    January 1, 1970
    Sweet goodness, gracious!! Blackwood is one remarkable story that surprised me! What a unique talent Michael Farris Smith has here with setting the powerful and distinctive tone and mood to Blackwood. I have not experienced anything like it before. It provoked a quiet feeling of bleakness, darkness and hope that whispered to me through the imagery used to the story. The bleak, dark and sinister evil that hovers over the edges of Red Bluff, Mississippi and the story quietly started to consume me Sweet goodness, gracious!! Blackwood is one remarkable story that surprised me! What a unique talent Michael Farris Smith has here with setting the powerful and distinctive tone and mood to Blackwood. I have not experienced anything like it before. It provoked a quiet feeling of bleakness, darkness and hope that whispered to me through the imagery used to the story. The bleak, dark and sinister evil that hovers over the edges of Red Bluff, Mississippi and the story quietly started to consume me when the man, the women and the boy drift into town and awaken the evil lurking in the Kudzu. There are some dark secrets buried under a blanket of leaves that create a landscape of fear and regret that consumes these characters. The words are written with grace and are haunting beautifully quiet. As I was reading, all I could hear was the creepy vines whispering the secrets of the past, keeping the darkness alive. There is some hope that quietly creeps in the end, leaving me with some quiet thoughts after reading this one. I highly recommend! I received a copy from NetGalley
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  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    Readers like myself who have followed this author from the beginning, know what to expect from his novels. Southern, gothic grit, with a dark, dark tone. This book is no exception and it starts out with a bang, well, not a bang exactly, let's just say a shocking event. From there it takes off, and the events build from there. A young man returning for answers, another man, woman and buy who are looking for some kind of life, a place to stop. A young woman, whose mother may have had answers but Readers like myself who have followed this author from the beginning, know what to expect from his novels. Southern, gothic grit, with a dark, dark tone. This book is no exception and it starts out with a bang, well, not a bang exactly, let's just say a shocking event. From there it takes off, and the events build from there. A young man returning for answers, another man, woman and buy who are looking for some kind of life, a place to stop. A young woman, whose mother may have had answers but us now gone, and a sheriff who is clearly over his head.There is clearly something wrong in the town of Red Bluffs, Mississippi, but where does it originate?"This place is one big ghost story. Stories about the valley. Stories about the man who killer himself. It's what we do."Kudzu covers everything left alone, even Colton's old house, but what else lives there. Things will get much worse, before answers are found. What and who will be left?As usual I couldn't stop reading this darn book, but either I missed something or some questions remain unanswered. Even so, this was an exciting ride.ARC from Netgalley.
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  • Zoeytron
    January 1, 1970
    Red Bluff, Mississippi.  A small town dying on the vine, inch by inch.  A homeless family almost makes it into town, but eschews help when it is offered.  A man who lived here as a boy returns after 20 years, deeply scarred on the inside.  Under the cover of darkness, a raggedy ass man shambles his way through town, lips smacking, touching other people's things, moving them around.  There is something the matter with all of them, and there is something very wrong with the place they are in.  Red Bluff, Mississippi.  A small town dying on the vine, inch by inch.  A homeless family almost makes it into town, but eschews help when it is offered.  A man who lived here as a boy returns after 20 years, deeply scarred on the inside.  Under the cover of darkness, a raggedy ass man shambles his way through town, lips smacking, touching other people's things, moving them around.  There is something the matter with all of them, and there is something very wrong with the place they are in.  Through the woods and down in the valley, the creep of the kudzu is relentless, covering and smothering, snaking out its tendrils, beckoning.  Never one to shy away from noir and gritty, this author has crept even deeper into the fold of the dark side with this novel.
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  • Cheri
    January 1, 1970
    In a small southern town that has seen better days, with more people leaving one way, or another than staying, a car with a young boy and his parents end up in Red Bluff, their car breaking down as they were trying to make their way anywhere but where theyd come from. As this journey began, there was a second boy, but the man, not believing himself to be that boys father, and not really wanting either boy, anyway, left him along the way, sending him into a store and leaving before he had a In a small southern town that has seen better days, with more people leaving – one way, or another – than staying, a car with a young boy and his parents end up in Red Bluff, their car breaking down as they were trying to make their way anywhere but where they’d come from. As this journey began, there was a second boy, but the man, not believing himself to be that boy’s father, and not really wanting either boy, anyway, left him along the way, sending him into a store and leaving before he had a chance to return. They are poor, and there is a hopelessness that surrounds this family. The man tries, unsuccessfully, to rationalize it to the mother, but she is also desperate in her own way. In Red Bluff, the Sheriff tries to help this family, but the man rebuffs his offer, and they end up, with great effort, living in their car outside the outskirts of the town. Their car now hidden among the kudzu vines, not far from the many other things it has ingested in its need to cover everything, hiding everything, especially the past. Among the people of this town is a man, Colbert, who has returned to Red Bluff after twenty years to face an event that has shaped his life, and which he needs to come to terms with. He works as a sculptor, turning trash into art, in a town that seems to be heading in the opposite direction. Celia, who owns the bar, seems to be the only one willing to give Colbert a gesture of friendship, or to feed a homeless young boy. It is a town filled with the lost and forlorn, and a seemingly endless string of heartbreaking and disturbing surprises are unearthed as the days pass.And that’s just the beginning.I have read, and loved, every one of Michael Farris Smith’s books, and this was no exception. This has some of the dark, Southern gothic tones I found in Rivers, and the prequel to Rivers, In the Beginning, the desire for a kinder, gentler life - against the odds - that I found in Desperation Road the brutality of life in The Fighter, and the anguish that comes with the waning of hope in The Hands of Strangers. It is, in short, brilliant, a work of genius. Unsettling, without being overly graphic, touching and affecting, with incredibly beautiful prose. Michael Farris Smith has crafted his best yet. Pub Date: 03 Mar 2020Many thanks for the ARC provided by Little, Brown and Company
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  • Andrew Smith
    January 1, 1970
    Early on we are introduced to:- A young boy who witnesses a family tragedy- A man, a woman and a boy: people with virtually nothing who become stranded in a small town- A sculptor who collects scrap metal which he intends to turn into strange forms- A girl who owns a run-down bar and and lives with memories of her fortune teller motherWho are these people and how are they connected? We are to learn the answers, but slowly as this often harrowing but completely engrossing tale plays out.The Early on we are introduced to:- A young boy who witnesses a family tragedy- A man, a woman and a boy: people with virtually nothing who become stranded in a small town- A sculptor who collects scrap metal which he intends to turn into strange forms- A girl who owns a run-down bar and and lives with memories of her fortune teller motherWho are these people and how are they connected? We are to learn the answers, but slowly as this often harrowing but completely engrossing tale plays out.The action is centred in and around the town of Red Bluff, Mississippi. It’s a tired place, with stores that are boarded up and where Kudzu has overtaken a valley on the edge of town. Within the valley a now uninhabited house has all but disappeared, swallowed up by the writhing knots of the invasive vine. There are other things hidden in this valley too, it’s a creepy and mysterious place.The sheriff is a man called Meyer. He’s held the badge for twenty uneventful years, but he’s about to be confronted by the most significant challenge of his career. In this gothic tale we’re swallowed up by the claustrophobic atmosphere of the piece, whilst hard facts are hard to come by. Information and answers are withheld and then eked out until at last we are able to see the whole picture, or at least most of it. As the story nears its conclusion it’s with a sense of pain and dread that pages are turned. The writing, as always with this author, is hauntingly beautiful. It’s a book to keep you up late, reluctant as you are to put it down, and then to keep you up all night as you dream of the events you’ve just witnessed. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling with characters you’ll love and hate and a setting that’ll most likely stick in your mind for years to come. You’ve done it again MFS, this is another masterpiece.May sincere thanks to Oldcastle Books and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Liz
    January 1, 1970
    This book is so well written, but it still took me a while to get invested in the story and the characters. A strange family comes to a small Mississippi town. Their car has broken down and they dont have the money to repair it. So, they take to living on the outskirts of town. Meanwhile, a man returns to the town where he spent his youth. These new individuals manage to stir things up - fights break out, children go missing. Smith gives you a total sense of place and time. This place is one big This book is so well written, but it still took me a while to get invested in the story and the characters. A strange family comes to a small Mississippi town. Their car has broken down and they don’t have the money to repair it. So, they take to living on the outskirts of town. Meanwhile, a man returns to the town where he spent his youth. These new individuals manage to stir things up - fights break out, children go missing. Smith gives you a total sense of place and time. “This place is one big ghost story.” The landscape is a character in its own right, kudzu covering everything. It’s a dark book, a sad and bleak one. The characters all have troubles, there are no happy souls here. The writing reminds me of Faulkner, true southern literature. Sparse and lush at the same time. This is a book that starts slow but picks up the pace as it goes on. I wanted to flip pages as fast as I could but also wanted to savor the experience and the writing. I was left shaking my head at the horror of it all. This isn’t a book with nice tidy answers. My thanks to netgalley and Little, Browns and Company for an advance copy of this book.
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  • Kelly (and the Book Boar)
    January 1, 1970
    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/In theory Blackwood should have been a slam dunk for me. I mean the damn thing starts with a kid walking in on his dad attempting to hang himself. Now if that aint bleak, I dont know what is and yall know I love bleak. Add in some questionable drifters and a small Southern town with a creepy vibe and this sucker should have been everything I was looking for. So what went wrong???? At first I thought . . . . . Because this is the Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/In theory Blackwood should have been a slam dunk for me. I mean the damn thing starts with a kid walking in on his dad attempting to hang himself. Now if that ain’t bleak, I don’t know what is and y’all know I love bleak. Add in some questionable drifters and a small Southern town with a creepy vibe and this sucker should have been everything I was looking for. So what went wrong???? At first I thought . . . . . Because this is the third Michael Farris Smith book I have attempted that I just couldn’t seem to connect with on a deeper level. Please note 3 Stars is a dang fine rating for someone as judgey as myself, and I will absolutely continue reading him because there’s nothing at all wrong with his storytelling. Not to mention the fact that I blew through this sucker in a few hours since he’s also not an author who wastes time with a bunch of filler. I simply can’t help but compare Farris Smith to other grit lit authors who blow my socks off time after time in order to give him more stars. Bottom line? I think my experience can once again be chalked up to the quote one of my trolls made infamous. Now . . . . . ARC provided by Little Brown in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Linda
    January 1, 1970
    When song writers take pen to paper, they may create lilting lullabies that waft like smoke drifting in your direction. When Michael Farris Smith strums words to page, he sets off a superb Aria encircling your soul initially with its subtle timbre. As the storyline plays out, the mind of the reader is filled bountifully while veering towards the quake of a final crashing crescendo. Smith reaches back into something fearful. Something fearful that bears no name. It reared its ugly head in the When song writers take pen to paper, they may create lilting lullabies that waft like smoke drifting in your direction. When Michael Farris Smith strums words to page, he sets off a superb Aria encircling your soul initially with its subtle timbre. As the storyline plays out, the mind of the reader is filled bountifully while veering towards the quake of a final crashing crescendo. Smith reaches back into something fearful. Something fearful that bears no name. It reared its ugly head in the summer of 1956 in the Mississippi Hill Country nestled among the intrusive kudzu vines. Vines that slowly take over everything in its path......the good, the bad, and the evil disguised as the humdrum of every day. It's when young Colburn, hardly twelve years old, came to call his father from the garage for supper. He paused with his hand on the doorknob.....and then he went in. Life changed forever.But birds come home to roost, once again, as Colburn returns to that town of Red Bluff in 1975. His past is his past or could it ever be? Colburn is now a sculptor who uses common items to create his works. There's no hubcap, wire, or slice of metal that he can't re-purpose into his art form. Red Bluff has advertised for free rent on abandoned storefronts in town to artists for their studios. The price is right. Or will "free" cost him more than what he bargained for?Dust rises in heavy clouds from the backend of a battered old Cadillac. It sputters its last breath upon reaching the parking lot of Red Bluff's post office and dies. Three of its occupants, man, woman, and boy, look at each other in dismay. This was not planned as they sit amongst the remains of old food cans, filthy blankets, and remnants of torn clothes. Enter Myer, the over-weight past-his-prime sheriff with a bad back. Myer tries to get information from this trio with no success. Passing through is not happening here. Man, woman, and boy with no names eventually push the Cadillac to a shady spot on the edge of town near those choking kudzu vines. They'll wait it out until their luck changes. The likelihood of that happening doesn't seem too likely about now. But keep an eye on these three, more is yet to come.Back to Colburn, our artist, who has settled into that storefront. He eventually finds the local watering hole of a bar owned by a red-haired attractive woman by the name of Celia. She and Colburn will be swappin' secrets and will find themselves at the receiving end of just that. Colburn can't escape his past and neither can Celia. The dark stuff always rises to the surface.Michael Farris Smith is a brilliant wordsmith. I've savored everything that he has written. My absolute favorite is Desperation Road in which he has artfully placed a finger on the pulse of downtrodden humanity. He does this again in Blackwood wrapping this one in a distinct darkness that resides on the periphery of real and unreal. A truly gifted writer, Smith's novels pull up a chair and remain with you forever.I received a copy of Blackwood through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to the talented Michael Farris Smith and to Little, Brown and Company for the opportunity.
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  • Carol
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 Stars.Ok, I'm in a reading slump, I admit it. I just can't seem to get moving this year and feel like one big nasty grump who doesn't like anything. So after my last two week long 3 star read, a book almost everyone loved (but me) I decided to go to one of my favorite authors....Michael Farris Smith.BLACKWOOD is his newest and my sixth MFS novel, with four solid 5 Star and one 4 Star previously, and I almost gave BLACKWOOD 4 Stars just for the super freaking fantastic skull book cover, but 3 3.5 Stars.Ok, I'm in a reading slump, I admit it. I just can't seem to get moving this year and feel like one big nasty grump who doesn't like anything. So after my last two week long 3 star read, a book almost everyone loved (but me) I decided to go to one of my favorite authors....Michael Farris Smith.BLACKWOOD is his newest and my sixth MFS novel, with four solid 5 Star and one 4 Star previously, and I almost gave BLACKWOOD 4 Stars just for the super freaking fantastic skull book cover, but 3 Stars is it (for me).I liked the small dying town setting with the creepy creeping kudzu vines, not knowing what lurks beneath, and the eerie beginning with what happened in the shed. I liked the characters, the writing (as is usual) and knowing evil was out there, but something was missing (for me) to bring it all together.Glad so many of my Goodread's friends loved it. As for me, will still eagerly await more from this author.
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    Its his best yet! I loved them all. If you can read the last chapter without a lump in your throat, youre made of harder stuff than me. This whole book MFS stretches you to breaking points over and over. Theres no redemption given until the final chapter. So, when do the days get longer? Probably some correlation with the book release day. You wont want to read this one in the cover of night. I thought William Gay was macabre, well Michael Farris Smith, took some notes and then kicked butt in It’s his best yet! I loved them all. If you can read the last chapter without a lump in your throat, you’re made of harder stuff than me. This whole book MFS stretches you to breaking points over and over. There’s no redemption given until the final chapter. So, when do the days get longer? Probably some correlation with the book release day. You won’t want to read this one in the cover of night. I thought William Gay was macabre, well Michael Farris Smith, took some notes and then kicked butt in the sinister realm. Just Wow!!! “And the multitude of hands held him between the light and the dark and then they let him go.” This will be a book that won’t let me go for a long time. I’m ready to go back to the first page and see what all I missed. This one is deep.I got carried away and almost forgot, thank you Little, Brown and Company for an ARC. I’m grateful for the opportunity to read this one before release.Note:Larry Brown’s short story The Crying mentions Black Woods. MFS is a huge Brown fan....verified, no tie. But still a good correlation.
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  • Nigel
    January 1, 1970
    In brief - Bleak, dark and SO well written - I have shivers running up my spine. In fullThere is a small town called Red Bluff in Mississippi. This book is set there. It feels as though it is somewhere where nothing much happens and hasn't for sometime. A vagabond family that no one knows anything about and seem a little less than desirable arrives. Colburn comes into the town and it seems as though there may be a history there. The sheriff has become accustomed to not needing to deal with In brief - Bleak, dark and SO well written - I have shivers running up my spine. In fullThere is a small town called Red Bluff in Mississippi. This book is set there. It feels as though it is somewhere where nothing much happens and hasn't for sometime. A vagabond family that no one knows anything about and seem a little less than desirable arrives. Colburn comes into the town and it seems as though there may be a history there. The sheriff has become accustomed to not needing to deal with problems. People who have lived there all there lives may be still stuck in a past. It seems that events may build up to a perfect storm. The book actually starts with a brief chapter which is set some 20 years earlier than the main part of the book. It features Colburn and his father in the main. It could well be described as disturbing. This book then follows the story of events 20 years later in Red Bluff. The writing gives a deep sense of place. One further "character" needs mentioning. There is the kudzu. I realise very early on that "kudzu" - a word I had not come across - was going to be important. I looked it up and realised that for some places this invasive plant causes major problems.The main characters are well developed and alive for me. I can feel there heat and see the kudzu. I found it a book that was far easier to continue to read than put down. I also had little idea where it might go by the end. Throughout there is a sense of dread. It is dark and bleak at times however not depressingly so for me.Last year I read this author's book "Desperation Road" and I loved it. I was very happy indeed to be able to read another of his books. His writing is so vivid and rich. I know of few authors who can conjure up the emotions and scenes as well as Michael Farris Smith can. I will certainly continue to read his books. Fans should love this and those new to his work should take a look at this and other books he has written to see what appeals.Note - I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair reviewhttps://viewson.org.uk/fiction/blackw...
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  • Faith
    January 1, 1970
    I liked the parts of this book that were not overwhelmed with creepy kudzu and ghosts. The author couldnt seem to make up his mind whether this was Southern gothic or a horror story. There is plenty of evil in the townsfolk and its visitors. No need to attribute it to the foliage. Im probably not the right audience for this book. I havent liked this author before and I generally think spooky goings on are just silly. Other people seem to love the book. I received a free copy of this book from I liked the parts of this book that were not overwhelmed with creepy kudzu and ghosts. The author couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether this was Southern gothic or a horror story. There is plenty of evil in the townsfolk and its visitors. No need to attribute it to the foliage. I’m probably not the right audience for this book. I haven’t liked this author before and I generally think spooky goings on are just silly. Other people seem to love the book. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    This is such an eerie, bleak book. Perfect for anyone who already loves Southern gothic as a genre, but I wouldnt gravitate toward that usually and I was hooked by this one. Michael Farris Smiths writing is atmospheric and lush and loping. I picked Blackwood up on a whim and read 200 pages that same night almost against my will; theres something magnetic about the setting especially. And I love that Smith constructs morally ambiguous situations where the reader feels complicit, responding to This is such an eerie, bleak book. Perfect for anyone who already loves Southern gothic as a genre, but I wouldn’t gravitate toward that usually and I was hooked by this one. Michael Farris Smith’s writing is atmospheric and lush and loping. I picked Blackwood up on a whim and read 200 pages that same night almost against my will; there’s something magnetic about the setting especially. And I love that Smith constructs morally ambiguous situations where the reader feels complicit, responding to sadness and desperation with contempt instead of generosity.
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  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    Farris Smith is a powerful writer with some of Cormac McCarthy's intensity of vision. This book is a tour-de-force that melds the 'return to my hometown' trope with 'small town secrets' and gives the whole thing a kind of existential makeover that is part biblical, part gothic. At the heart, as with MFS's previous books, are people broken, suffering, and desperate, weighted down by burdens of the past and past actions, deliberate acts or failures to act, even tragic accidents that still manifest Farris Smith is a powerful writer with some of Cormac McCarthy's intensity of vision. This book is a tour-de-force that melds the 'return to my hometown' trope with 'small town secrets' and gives the whole thing a kind of existential makeover that is part biblical, part gothic. At the heart, as with MFS's previous books, are people broken, suffering, and desperate, weighted down by burdens of the past and past actions, deliberate acts or failures to act, even tragic accidents that still manifest as guilt. The theme of redemption has a quasi-religious edge, the bestowing of grace that comes with acknowledgment. A brooding, dark story with only the barest chinks of light to lift it, articulated through beautifully controlled writing.Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.
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  • Dem
    January 1, 1970
    Not for me.
  • Claire Fullerton
    January 1, 1970
    Author Michael Farris Smith is one of those rare writers who uses language as setting. He opens his fifth novel, Blackwood, in the year 1975 with The foulrunning Cadillac arrived chugging into the town limits of Red Bluff, the car having struggled out of the Delta flatlands and into the Mississippi hill country, the ups and downs of the landscape pushing the roughriding vehicle beyond what was left of its capabilities. Off the bat, the reader knows the stage is set for bad luck and hard times Author Michael Farris Smith is one of those rare writers who uses language as setting. He opens his fifth novel, Blackwood, in the year 1975 with “The “foulrunning Cadillac arrived chugging into the town limits of Red Bluff, the car having struggled out of the Delta flatlands and into the Mississippi hill country, the ups and downs of the landscape pushing the roughriding vehicle beyond what was left of its capabilities.” Off the bat, the reader knows the stage is set for bad luck and hard times for the drifters come to town. Farris Smith doesn’t snow us with a glimmer of hope, he hands us the premise as a matter of fact. Then the story deepens. Blackwood is a story of loners and outsiders thrown together seemingly by chance. They’d like to connect but lack the fundamental knowledge of how, as each manages their individual vortex trying not to drown in their common sphere. Red Bluff, Mississippi is lackluster to the point where the town gives away abandoned, downtown storefronts to anyone willing to maintain one. Colburn, haunted by his past, calls himself an industrial sculptor. He returns to the seat of his loveless childhood in his flatbed, looking for scrap metal and such to fashion into art in one of Main Street’s cast-offs. He is looking for something. He wants to confront the demons of his past, and in his search, reunites with a will-o-the-wisp bar owner named Celia, in an attraction so conflicted, it exhumes his childhood pain. Myer wears his pantlegs tucked in his boots and walks with a limp. He is Red Bluff’s weary law enforcement who gives too little too late to the town’s drifters, who take to the kudzu tangled woods on the edge of town where something sinister lurks. Rich in tenor, setting, metaphor, and dark imagery, Blackwood is an intricately woven, gritty story of disconnected lives unwittingly affecting each other in repercussive ways, written is language so bleakly mood-setting, reading its pages becomes a state of mind. Many a luminous author has called Oxford, Mississippi’s Michael Farris Smith one of the best writers of his generation. And he is. And Blackwood proves it.
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  • Shellie Zeigler
    January 1, 1970
    Its an amazing skill to be able to transport a reader into a world that is made up of the heartbroken, desperate, and lost..within the first two chapters. Red Bluff, Mississippi is a place that I see all the time when I am driving through the country roads of small towns in the Mississippi Delta. The overabundance of the mysterious kudzu takes your breath away. MFS has created a world where the reader can feel in their bones the weariness and regret of the hardworking people of this region. But It’s an amazing skill to be able to transport a reader into a world that is made up of the heartbroken, desperate, and lost..within the first two chapters. Red Bluff, Mississippi is a place that I see all the time when I am driving through the country roads of small towns in the Mississippi Delta. The overabundance of the mysterious kudzu takes your breath away. MFS has created a world where the reader can feel in their bones the weariness and regret of the hardworking people of this region. But this is also a story of hope and redemption that comes to many of us slowly and with a price. This is a take you can sink you teeth into and will still have asking for more after the final page. This is storytelling for us all and especially those that can’t get enough of seeing “the woman with her hair flapping in the wind and her eyes still able to see a better day.” Opinions and review are all my own. Thank you so much to MFS and Little, Brown and Company for this ARC.
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  • Sid Nuncius
    January 1, 1970
    This is another very compelling book from Michael Farris Smith. I thought that Desperation Road and The Fighter were both outstanding; Blackwood is equally readable, atmospheric and involving but Im not sure it said quite as much as the previous two.Blackwood is set in rural Tennessee where a small town has been surrounded and all but taken over by the invasive weed kudzu, which covers and ultimately chokes all other vegetation and any houses which arent constantly defended. Into this town come This is another very compelling book from Michael Farris Smith. I thought that Desperation Road and The Fighter were both outstanding; Blackwood is equally readable, atmospheric and involving but I’m not sure it said quite as much as the previous two.Blackwood is set in rural Tennessee where a small town has been surrounded and all but taken over by the invasive weed kudzu, which covers and ultimately chokes all other vegetation and any houses which aren’t constantly defended. Into this town come a family of drifters headed by a dangerous and increasingly unhinged man, and another man returning to his childhood home and seeking some answers to tragedy from his past and possibly some redemption. Sinister, sometimes violent developments ensue and Farris Smith again explores issues of damaged masculinity seeking salvation, repression, anger and the mores of a small, isolated community – all with the unspoken metaphor of the encroaching darkness and oppression of the kudzu.Farris Smith’s writing is, as always, brilliant; terse, compelling and realistic in its portrayal of place and character. I was utterly involved from the start and it’s a completely engrossing read which doesn’t shy away from tough subjects nor go in for easy resolution. I did find the ending a little odd and out of step with the rest of the book, though, and afterward I had the sense that there was less new insight than in his previous books.These small reservations aside, I can recommend Blackwood warmly.(My thanks to No Exit Press for an ARC via NetGalley.)
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  • SueLucie
    January 1, 1970
    The second book Ive read published by No Exit Press. I was delighted to find them offering this, by an author recommended to me by a friend just recently, so I leapt at the chance and it didnt disappoint.The atmosphere he creates is overwhelming - sinister and mysterious. Invasive kudzu is smothering the landscape, whole houses left to moulder away under its layers, and we are led to wonder about how it used to be. It is a constant presence in the lives we read about here, blighted by tragedy, The second book I’ve read published by No Exit Press. I was delighted to find them offering this, by an author recommended to me by a friend just recently, so I leapt at the chance and it didn’t disappoint.The atmosphere he creates is overwhelming - sinister and mysterious. Invasive kudzu is smothering the landscape, whole houses left to moulder away under its layers, and we are led to wonder about how it used to be. It is a constant presence in the lives we read about here, blighted by tragedy, guilt, desperate poverty and society’s indifference. It is a hard, bleak world for those at the bottom and there is little here in the way of hope that anything will change for the better. His writing has a certain rhythm to it that I can’t really explain, haunting and hypnotic. I was riveted by it and fully engaged with his characters and the events in their small community. My one niggle is the ending which I found jarring in the direction it took - I was expecting and would have preferred the novel to finish in Red Bluff. Highly recommended.
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  • Linda
    January 1, 1970
    MFS has done it again! I read his first book and was hooked by his writing. Ive read every book, all five stars. I live in the neighboring state of Alabama, I know a few things about kudzu. Southern Gothic storytelling at its best. I was up into the wee hours of the morning finishing this one. MFS Im anxiously awaiting your next book! Im going to reread until the next release.Perfect cover for this book!! MFS has done it again! I read his first book and was hooked by his writing. I’ve read every book, all five stars. I live in the neighboring state of Alabama, I know a few things about kudzu. Southern Gothic storytelling at its best. I was up into the wee hours of the morning finishing this one. MFS I’m anxiously awaiting your next book! I’m going to reread until the next release.Perfect cover for this book!!
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  • Dan Radovich
    January 1, 1970
    Sweet Mercy! Michael Farris Smith has been creating marvelous Southern fiction for sometime now, and BLACKWOOD takes Southern Gothic over the edge to near brilliance. Eerie. Creepy. Unsettling in parts. You will not leave Red Bluff, MS unscathed when you close the cover. Something is going on in Red Bluff; people are going crazy, committing murder, disappearing and are trying to cope with strange goings on. The group of locals that are searching for twin boys gone missing is at the heart of his Sweet Mercy! Michael Farris Smith has been creating marvelous Southern fiction for sometime now, and BLACKWOOD takes Southern Gothic over the edge to near brilliance. Eerie. Creepy. Unsettling in parts. You will not leave Red Bluff, MS unscathed when you close the cover. Something is going on in Red Bluff; people are going crazy, committing murder, disappearing and are trying to cope with strange goings on. The group of locals that are searching for twin boys gone missing is at the heart of his tale of good confronting evil. Another must read from Michael Farris Smith.
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  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    This book moved over me like a locomotive. Every page weighs an emotional ton, yet Smiths prose is so tight that I just kept moving with it. Heartbreaking over and over again. His best yet. This book moved over me like a locomotive. Every page weighs an emotional ton, yet Smith’s prose is so tight that I just kept moving with it. Heartbreaking over and over again. His best yet.
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  • Raven
    January 1, 1970
    Outside of my love of crime fiction, I am also a fan of American fiction, and more particularly the canon of authors who write within the Southern gothic genre, so writers such as William Faulkner, Daniel Woodrell, Frank Bill et al. Having been completely blown away by Farris Smiths last book The Fighter I then backtracked and read all of his previous books. What a writer he is. So, it was with immeasurable delight, as Im sure you can imagine, that Blackwood was received, and quickly readFarris Outside of my love of crime fiction, I am also a fan of American fiction, and more particularly the canon of authors who write within the Southern gothic genre, so writers such as William Faulkner, Daniel Woodrell, Frank Bill et al. Having been completely blown away by Farris Smith’s last book The Fighter I then backtracked and read all of his previous books. What a writer he is. So, it was with immeasurable delight, as I’m sure you can imagine, that Blackwood was received, and quickly read…Farris Smith is for my money one of the finest contemporary American writers, and has a natural talent for encompassing big emotional themes in a relatively compressed page count. This book focusses very much on what is termed small town America, where sins of the past acquire a mythical status, and, by the same token continue to infuse the sensibility of the present. The key protagonist Colburn, a man returning to his hometown of Red Bluff, encompasses the veracity of this theme, as the local populace, in particular local lawman Myer begin to remember the traumatic event of Colburn’s youth. Throughout the book Colburn’s every action is influenced by this event, leading him ever closer to despair, and compounded by present day events with ramifications for those he has made a connection with, the book sucks us deeper and deeper into his personal darkness. In fact, aside from Myer, pretty much every character in this book seems to be descending into some kind of personal insanity leading to murder, acts of violence, a recognition of the malign influence of the supernatural or a feeling of disconnect on a human level with those around them. Colburn only makes one meaningful connection, but inevitably this becomes tainted too.I found the characterisation in this book incredibly powerful and the way that the author imbues each character with a sense of victimhood worked on a real emotional level. There seemed to be a real sense of the weak and the strong, but with Farris Smith blurring the lines between the two with ease. Equally, the day to day lives and routines of this claustrophobic town, and those that live within it gave a real texture and richness to the book, with petty rivalries, unfaithfulness, and an overarching feel of suppressed violence.What really stood out for me in this book was the author’s integration of both the beauty and malevolence of the natural world. The passages of description of the verdant landscape, tainted by the trailing tendrils of the kudzu vines, added a real texture and atmosphere, becoming ever more threatening in parallel to the deepening darkness of the central plot itself. This continual feel of the natural world impinging on each character, or determining their actions was so beautifully portrayed that I began to feel a genuine sense of fear. As the natural world encroaches more and more on the psyche of those seeking shelter, and, at times, redemption within its grasp, it also seems to arouse in others an even more heightened motivation to commit evil deeds.Blackwood is not an easy read as there is a feel of unremitting sadness about the book as whole, with only slight interludes of humans making any meaningful connections to one another. But I loved it. There are passages of sublime description, stoked with a resonance of our small place in the natural world, and also the sheer folly of some our actions toward others. I was genuinely moved in parts, enraged by others, as we are drawn into this world of damaged individuals, hell-bent on destruction or looking for redemption, or more simply, affection. Powerful and beautifully written. Highly recommended.
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  • Lori Tatar
    January 1, 1970
    Blackwood is not a book that will soon be forgotten. It is a spooky, creepy, sad and disturbing tale. What happens when you are unwanted from before you were even born? What happens when you are never cared for or about? Two men, parallel lives at the edges of darkness and finally swallowed by darkness in a dying town. I cant say enough about the craft with which Blackwood is written. It is a beautiful illustration of a pervasive evil as it slowly gnaws its way through what is good and light. Blackwood is not a book that will soon be forgotten. It is a spooky, creepy, sad and disturbing tale. What happens when you are unwanted from before you were even born? What happens when you are never cared for or about? Two men, parallel lives at the edges of darkness and finally swallowed by darkness in a dying town. I can’t say enough about the craft with which Blackwood is written. It is a beautiful illustration of a pervasive evil as it slowly gnaws its way through what is good and light. Stunning!
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  • Alex Jones
    January 1, 1970
    Red Bluff, Mississippi, a rural town in Southern United States. A bleak town, slowly dying, with nothing but empty storefronts, and broken people. A desperate place.Surrounded by the ever encroaching kudzu plants that sprawl the town, 2 boys, twins , go missing when a family of drifters arrive in town.And a man who returns to the broken city, his past deeply cast in it roots, he returns to the promise of free premises where he can create his art.This book is something very different from my Red Bluff, Mississippi, a rural town in Southern United States. A bleak town, slowly dying, with nothing but empty storefronts, and broken people. A desperate place.Surrounded by the ever encroaching kudzu plants that sprawl the town, 2 boys, twins , go missing when a family of drifters arrive in town.And a man who returns to the broken city, his past deeply cast in it roots, he returns to the promise of free premises where he can create his art.This book is something very different from my usual reads. It’s a darkly disturbing tale of a back water US town, filled with desperation and lost hope.Atmospheric, Eerie, unsettling. The prose is quite superb. A book that will stay with you, it creeps under your skin, much like the Kudzu plant that features so prominently in the story.Stunning, Tense and enthralling, this is a harrowing tale that deserves to be read from an author of the highest order.The highest of recommendations5 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
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  • Nic Schuck
    January 1, 1970
    His best yet. Damn good writing and the story is a page-turner. Characters are McCarthy-like, and hints of Larry Brown shine through as well. Great job Michael Farris Smith.
  • Laura plantladyreader
    January 1, 1970
    This was a quick read for me! At first, I wasnt entirely sure I was hooked, because I wasnt sure where the story was going. We opened with a family who were homeless, doing things that any decent human being would never dream of doing to get ahead. The man within the trio comes off as unstable, and gives the reader an uneasy feeling of what he could do next. The trio stumble into a lonely little town, where the kudzu vibes are rampant and will take over the town if the people dont keep them at This was a quick read for me! At first, I wasn’t entirely sure I was hooked, because I wasn’t sure where the story was going. We opened with a family who were homeless, doing things that any decent human being would never dream of doing to get ahead. The man within the trio comes off as unstable, and gives the reader an uneasy feeling of what he could do next. The trio stumble into a lonely little town, where the kudzu vibes are rampant and will take over the town if the people don’t keep them at bay. But it seems like vines have a mind of their own, and the family quickly discovers the secrets that lay within. We meet Colburn, a native of the town who has come back to face his demons. He meets Celia and we are taken on a whirlwind of emotions. Alongside this, the town experiences many events that can’t be explained, and Colburn becomes a prime suspect. Is it the kudzu? Or is someone involved?This book was suspenseful and anxiety inducing 😂 I read it quickly because I was left going “wait, what??” at the end of every chapter, and that’s what I want in a thriller. It could have had more character development, but it may have had to be a little longer. We didn’t even learn some characters names, and the backstories had plenty of holes which left me feeling a little unsatisfied. Overall, it was a quick, suspenseful read, and I would recommend it!3.5🌿
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  • Gatorman
    January 1, 1970
    A dark and sorrowful tale from Smith about the denizens of Red Bluff, a dying town that is trying to hide from its past but can't find any future to move on to. The woods are concealing a mysterious presence that affects three raggedy newcomers whose car breaks down in town with ripple effects everywhere. Smith has the backwoods noir writing style down pat and works wonders with so little. He pulls no punches and isn't afraid to bring on the misery when other authors would back down and give in A dark and sorrowful tale from Smith about the denizens of Red Bluff, a dying town that is trying to hide from its past but can't find any future to move on to. The woods are concealing a mysterious presence that affects three raggedy newcomers whose car breaks down in town with ripple effects everywhere. Smith has the backwoods noir writing style down pat and works wonders with so little. He pulls no punches and isn't afraid to bring on the misery when other authors would back down and give in to the pat ending. It brings his characters to life even if that life isn't all that worthwhile. Another strong effort. 4.5 stars.
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