Under the far-reaching umbrella of contemporary fiction, most writers tend to stay on one side as long as it’s out of the rain. They find their genre or interest, be it experimental, the mundane, fantastical or any of the thirty or so genres available to them, and stick to it. Call it an inability to change. Call it being too comfortable. Call it whatever you like, the truth remains. When a writer finds something that can sell, rarely are they going to venture out into the rainy days of uncertainty.
Not Michael Farris Smith, however.
His first novel “Rivers,” published September, 10 2013 by Simon and Schuster, is a dire apocalyptic novel set in Mississippi. The novel uses a historically accurate event, Hurricane Katrina, to drive a narrative that questions the very possibility of genre. Labeled as apocalyptic, sci-fi and realism, among others, the hodgepodge of genre allows for a work that’s completely unexpected.
On Feb. 5 at 7 p.m., students will get the chance to hear the work for themselves when Smith reads at Seton Hall as part of the Poetry-in-the-Round series.
“At last count I think I’ve seen “Rivers” listed under eight different genres,” he said. “I don’t think there’s really anything one genre can do that another one can’t. I think whatever you’re writing, it has to be real and true and unwilling to conform.”
His first major work,” The Hands of Strangers,” a novella about the cataclysmic state of losing a child, doesn’t take a major event like Katrina to the extreme. But it does force the characters to question their existence, their relationships and above all, the necessity of change.
“I’m drawn to characters and situations in shattered circumstances,” Smith said. “Hardship is what is interesting in fiction. Just like in life, you find out about people when things are tough, bleak. That’s why I took the storms to an extraordinary level in “Rivers” and began years into it. Okay, we have been devastated. Now what?”
Despite the recent attention for “Rivers,” Smith said he hopes to always remain surprised by the publications of his own fiction.
“I always tell people if you could’ve seen me jumping around the day I got my first story accepted and the day “Rivers” was accepted, you couldn’t tell which was which,” he said. “I hope I’ll always be like that.”
Smith said he’s looking forward to sharing his writing with the students who attend his reading.
“I enjoy reading aloud and always have,” Smith said. “Writing is so solitary that I find it rewarding to have something to share with an audience. I like the exchange, I like taking questions and talking with people who attend.”
Check out Smith’s website http://michaelfarrissmith.com to purchase Rivers, find upcoming events and more.
Ben Rader can be reached an firstname.lastname@example.org.