Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith – extract

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith is published by No Exit Press on 23 February 2017. The publishers have kindly given me permission to share an extract of the book.

The old man was nearly to the Louisiana line when he

saw the woman and child walking on the other side of the

interstate, the woman carrying a garbage bag tossed over her

shoulder and the child lagging behind. He watched them as he

passed and then he watched them in his rearview mirror and

he watched the cars pass them as if they were road signs. The

sun was high and the sky clear and if nothing else he knew they

were hot, so he pulled off at the next exit and crossed the bridge

over the interstate and headed back north on I-55. He’d seen

them a few miles back and as he drove he hoped there would be

a damn good excuse for what they were doing.

He slowed as he approached them and they walked in the

grass, the girl slapping at her bare legs with her hands and the

woman slumped with the weight of the garbage bag. He pulled

onto the side of the interstate and stopped behind them but

neither the woman nor the girl turned around. Then he shifted

the car into park and got out.


They stopped and looked at him and he walked over. Their

cheeks red and sweaty from the heat and traces of a sunburn

beneath the streaks of the blond, almost white hair of the child.

The woman and the girl both wore shorts and tank tops and

their shoulders were pink and their legs spotted with scratches

and insect bites from walking in the rough grass on the side of

the road. The woman dropped the garbage bag to the ground

and it hit with a thud.

‘What y’all doing out here?’ the old man asked. He adjusted

his hat and looked at the bag.

‘Walking,’ the woman said. She squinted as looking at the

man meant facing the sun and the little girl folded her hands

over her eyes and peeked between her fingers.

‘You need some help? She don’t look too good,’ he said and

he nodded toward the child.

‘We’re trying to get up to the truck stop. At Fernwood. You

know it?’

‘Yeah, I know it. Another ten miles or so. What you got there?’

‘Gonna meet somebody.’

‘Somebody with a car?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Come on and get in. Y’all don’t need to be out here like this,’

he said and he reached down and picked up the garbage bag.

‘It’s heavy,’ the woman said.

The old man grunted as he tossed it over his shoulder and

the woman and child walked behind him to the long, silver

Buick. He opened the trunk and set the bag in it and the woman

followed the child into the backseat.

He watched the woman in the rearview mirror and tried

to talk to her as they drove but she looked out the window or

looked down at the child as he spoke, only giving one-word

answers to questions about where they’d been or where they

were going or what they were doing or what they needed or

if she was sure there was gonna be somebody there to meet

them at the truck stop. In the air-conditioning her face lost its

color and he saw that there was a vacancy in her expression

when she answered his questions and he knew that she didn’t

know any more about what they were doing or where they were

going than he did. The woman’s face was thin and he could

only see the top of the girl’s head in the mirror but she seemed

to look down, maybe from exhaustion or hunger or boredom

or maybe some of all of it. He hadn’t been around children in a

long time and he guessed she was five or six. She sat quietly next

to the woman, like a wornout doll. The old man finally gave up

talking to the woman and let her ride in peace, figuring she was

happy to be sitting down.

In minutes the sign for the truck stop appeared above the

trees on the left side of the interstate and he pulled off the exit

and drove into the vast parking lot, where the big trucks moved

in and out. Around to the right side of the truck stop were the

diesel pumps and a row of motel rooms. The old man drove

to the left of the truck stop, through the gas pumps and past

the gift shop and truckers’ showers and changing rooms and

he stopped at the door of the café, which had its own separate

entrance at the back.

‘This all right?’ he asked the woman and she nodded.

‘C’mon, baby,’ she said to the girl.

The old man walked around to the trunk and lifted out the

garbage bag and set it down on the concrete. Then he reached

into his back pocket and took out his wallet and he picked out

forty dollars and he held it out to the woman.

She bowed her head and said thank you.

He nodded and said he wished he had more but the woman

told him that was plenty. She hoisted the bag and took the

girl’s hand and thanked the man with a half smile and he held

open the door of the café for them as they walked inside. He

watched them through the glass door. A countertop and row

of bar stools lined the right side of the café and the little girl

tapped her fingers on top of each stool as they walked past

and the woman dropped the bag on the floor and dragged it

across the linoleum. He watched until a waitress took them to a

table next to the window and he started to go in after them, to

give them his phone number, to tell the woman to call him if

her ride didn’t show up and that he’d do what he could. But he

didn’t. Instead he got back into the Buick and he crossed over

the interstate and drove along the highway, back toward home,

where he parked underneath the shade of the carport and

where he would then go inside and sit down with his wife at the

kitchen table. He would tell her about the woman and the child

and when she asked him what he’d been doing driving toward

Louisiana in the first place he wouldn’t be able to remember.


About the book:


“In the vein of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone and the works of Ron Rash, a novel set in a rough-and-tumble Mississippi town where drugs, whiskey, guns, and the desire for revenge violently intersect

For eleven years the clock has been ticking for Russell Gaines as he sat in Parchman penitentiary in the Mississippi Delta. His time now up, and believing his debt paid, he returns home only to discover that revenge lives and breathes all around.

On the day of his release, a woman named Maben and her young daughter trudge along the side of the interstate under the punishing summer sun. Desperate and exhausted, the pair spend their last dollar on a motel room for the night, a night that ends with Maben running through the darkness holding a pistol, and a dead deputy sprawled across the road in the glow of his own headlights.

With dawn, destinies collide, and Russell is forced to decide whose life he will save – his own or that of the woman and child?”

4 Comments Add yours

  1. bookbumzuky says:

    I read this novel the other day and really enjoyed it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Susie | Novel Visits says:

    I read and reviewed Desperation Road a couple weeks ago. Though there was much I enjoyed about the book, I definitely thought it had flaws. For example, it makes absolutely no sense that a man, on his first night out of prison, would drive deep into the woods to see why there are police lights flashing (even more so because he has a shotgun and alcohol in his truck).


    1. janetemson says:

      Yes, I can see what you mean 🙂


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