Skip to main content

Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Forgiveness Doesn't Fix It

In 2020, my major crisis wasn’t the virus, the tornado that damaged my kid’s school, or even the suicide bombing that occurred just a few miles from my house. It was the collapse of my marriage.  Friends have asked me if I thought our relationship would have survived if there wasn’t a pandemic. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe the rhythm of work, school, and our kid’s extracurricular activities would have swept us along, and we wouldn’t have stared at each other’s faults for days on end. But our marriage began to dismantle years ago. Like many couples, we went through a trying time where our vows were put to the test. But our young kids’ wellbeing outweighed the grievances, so we toughed it out and stayed together.  Still, I was hurt. Really hurt. But I had to figure out how to stay in the relationship without being devoured by anger, which was foreign to me. Throughout my life, I’ve always cut the cord — I never stayed friends with ex-lovers. I’ve walked away from lifelong friendships. I ha


The fight against COVID-19 is not like Vietnam. The fatality comparison is a poignant illustration of the magnitude, but the trauma is not the same. Vietnam was man against man. Governments colliding. National division. And sure, there’s division and bureaucratic mishandling of the pandemic, but ultimately our enemy is biological. It’s doesn’t scheme or behave in human ways. It isn’t trying to profit. It needs us alive so it can multiply. We quarantine and self-protect, but there’s no protective gear for our hearts and minds. The virus has replicated in anxiety and fear. So, we surrender and lay low, waiting for the fallout to settle before we emerge from our shelters, weary and disturbed. But some comforts and new rituals will endure. Family walks and dinners. Backyard campfires. Movies we agree on. Being quick to settle grievances. Reading together under a shade tree. The paradigm has shifted, and there’s no going back. I know it. My kids know it, too. They’ve become

If You Knew What I Lived Through | Gloria Grahame in Human Desire

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame first appear in The Big Heat, where Ford plays Bannion, a cop who takes on a powerful crime syndicate. He’s a good guy — infallible moral code, making honorable decisions at every turn. Meanwhile, Grahame is Debby Marsh, Lee Marvin’s moll, unreliable until Marvin’s character, Vince Stone, disfigures her by throwing coffee in her face. Marsh helps Bannion by avenging his wife’s murder and injuring Stone. But sadly, she’s mortally wounded and dies at the end. Ford’s impeccable image from The Big Heat sticks with him in Lang’s version of Human Desire. His character, Jeff Warren, compromises his noble ambitions by falling for a married woman. But the character feels unrealized and falls a little flat. And like The Big Heat, it’s the women that sizzle on the screen, and Grahame’s character, Vicki Buckley, is the one who truly knows the dangers of Human Desire. When we first meet Vicki, she’s in the bedroom, her comely leg stretched in the air, play