Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith

Red Bluff, Mississippi, is a dying town in the 70’s, slowly being eaten up by the encroaching kudzu, and there’s something rotten at the heart of the “blackwood” that lurks underneath it’s leaf canopy. A family living rough end up there at the same time that Colburn returns to town, an artist looking for answers to a family tragedy that happened years ago, and a chain of events is sparked.

There’s also the town sheriff, who remembers the past, what happened to Colburn, and wants to do right by everyone. And Celia, whose mother was a psychic and who knew Colburn’s father. I really liked these two characters, who seem like innocent bystanders, watching what’s going on. There’s a story in the town that there’s something in the kudzu, a voice that calls out to the darkness in people and makes them do things, and these two don’t ever hear it, though people close to them do.

The book opens with such a great chapter. It’s shocking and drops you right into things, and makes you wonder who those people were and what happened and why… and that’s really fun in this book: The intrigue. Each person has a story or a secret or something, and you want to know more. And there’s also this sense that something really bad is going to happen, all these different threads coming together… and it does. It’s real Southern Gothic territory and the author is able to evoke that sense of darkness and creeping terror really well, but it’s the characters that will keep you reading, wanting to know them and their stories, their secrets. The dark but lush kudzu, with it’s rapacious growth is such a contrast to the dying town, with it’s empty homes, it’s bar that looks like a bomb shelter and it’s failed attempts to draw artists and people back to itself. It’s quite a place. Beneath the veneer of hard working people in a dying town, there is theft, stalking, murder, suicide and child abuse. There’s something gone very bad at it’s core.

The author wrote the highly acclaimed Nick, which is about the character from The Great Gatsby, amongst other books. Here, his voice is unique, evocative and a bit lyrical, and he has you by the throat in the early pages. After reading this, I wanted to read more of his books.

But I have to say, I felt like the ending in this was an anticlimax. I think I was sensing that the author was going to tell us a little more, give some more answers and there wasn’t any. I don’t mind that in stories like The Birds, where you never know what made the birds in the town go crazy, but here I felt like it was hinting that it would tell us and then didn’t deliver, which felt odd. The final chapter felt unsatisfying as one of the characters life, as in their whole life, was kind of wrapped up in a few pages. It didn’t fit in tone and style with the rest of the book. I felt like the author lost his way and just popped an ending on there out of not knowing how to end things, how to wrap them up. It didn’t spoil the book as a whole, I still really liked it, but I just felt kind of flat after finishing it.

I do think that with the mood and the whole premise and plot that it would make a really great movie. I would love to see that.

Read It If: you love dark, Southern Gothic vibes with plenty of mystery and a few ghosts thrown in. It’s really well written, even if that ending feels a little flat.

Thank you HBG Canada for the copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

Blackwood is out now.

2 thoughts on “Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith

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