In Blackwood, Michael Farris Smith takes us down a creepy, kudzu-covered trail where a vicious predator prowls, and sometimes the truth seems better unseen.
The best times in Red Bluff, Mississippi, are long gone. Vacant and crumbling, the town’s offer of free housing fails to attract anyone, except for Colburn, a sculptor and drifter who lived in Red Bluff long ago.
As a child, Colburn experienced the horrific trauma of witnessing his father’s death. But as the story unfolds, the events leading to his father’s demise deliver a series of gut punches that are nearly impossible to shake off.
Smith weaves the fatalistic tale with sensitivity but leaves us unsettled. As we read Colburn’s painful ruminations, echoed by a rotting house smothered in kudzu, we learn of his despair. His loneliness. His unshakeable fear that reminds him he’s alive.
Psychic threads connect the characters like tangled vines. Colburn and the boy pay retribution to their miserable fathers. Savage human and animal killers take innocent lives. Everyone in Red Bluff aches.
A desperate story like Blackwood needs skilled prose, and fortunately, Smith delivers. Measured and poetic, he emerges as a master of the southern gothic, a superb storyteller eliciting tears and compassion.
Blackwood will haunt me for a long time.