Rivers tells a tale of a world where humanity has finally caused the natural order to deviate, and hurricanes pummel large portions of the coastal United States. The rain hasn’t stopped for years, and nothing remains except cold and water and despair. Michael Farris Smith builds an atmosphere here that is simultaneously engrossing and terrifying, the latter because it’s entirely believable that our continued apathy towards the health of our planet could result in just such a scenario.

As with all of Michael Farris Smith’s works, Rivers is about more than just the story he is telling. The core of this novel is centered around Cohen and his various emotions. Chief among these are grief and guilt. Haunted by the ghost of his wife Elisa, everything Cohen has done since her passing has been a tribute to her. Staying in the storm-battered state of Mississippi in a futile attempt to finish their daughter’s room, feeling as though somehow that will make up for the fact that Elisa and their unborn child perished while under Cohen’s watch. It is not until meeting Mariposa that he is finally able to let go of those feelings and make peace with his memories.

Hope is also a very strong theme in Rivers. It is shown in many different ways, but all of the characters within these pages cling to some form of hope. Despite the storms that barrage the coast, despite humanity breaking down and literally tearing itself apart, there is always some bright light to be found shining through the clouds. Cohen’s hope was the memory of his wife and daughter, it became Mariposa and, in the end, his hope continued on with their child.

I am continually blown away by Michael Farris Smith’s ability to tell a story. Of course the plot and characters are incredible, but the manner in which he writes is enthralling. His prose is unique and fluid and just lends a realness to whatever he sets down on the page. There are very few authors that I’ve read who have such a mastery of the craft.

Rivers is not without its problems, but they are minor and easily overlooked in favor of how captivating this novel is. This is a fresh look on a post-apocalyptic setting, and Michael Farris Smith’s understanding of the human condition allows him to weave a tale that is equally thrilling, uplifting, and devastating in equal measure.

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