Excerpt from Salvage This World by Michael Farris Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Salvage This World

A Novel

by Michael Farris Smith

Salvage This World by Michael Farris Smith X
Salvage This World by Michael Farris Smith
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  • Published:
    Apr 2023, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Salvage This World

She stood bathed in twilight, the dust in her hair and a kid on her hip and she stared at the approaching storm as if trying to figure how to wrangle the thunderheads and steer them to a distant and parched land where desperate souls would pay whatever ransom she demanded. The acres of sugar cane cut to nubs surrounding the house. A dry autumn turned into an unpredictable winter and then eleven days ago he left and she'd seen no one since. It was a mile walk along a dirt road that separated the acreage and another eight miles to walk to the nearest telephone but even if she wanted to bundle up and make it she wouldn't know who to call. He was gone. And he had taken the car and the cigarettes and every dollar except for the stash she kept hidden beneath a floor plank in the closet. She had finished the last of the whiskey three nights before. The milk had run out yesterday.

Jessie stared at the storm and the wind began to blow and dustclouds rose like souls awakened and she listened to the wind and welcomed the sound of something else. She shifted the child from one hip to the other and pointed out at the lightning and said look at the light. See the light? One side of the sky was thick with stormclouds and the other side of the sky was wrapped in a rustred belt that bled into the horizon like an open wound and the child lifted his small hand and pointed at the light but it was not the lightning he saw but a gathering of headlights approaching in the distance. The thunder roared and the engines roared and she turned and ran for the house, setting the child down on the porch and hurrying for the bedroom, her footfalls hard against the floorboards and her breath in quick sucks as she took the pistol from beneath the mattress and grabbed the set of keys from the dresser drawer that he had always told her to grab if she had to make a run for it and then she hustled out and scooped up the child. The headlights growing closer and splitting the dusk as she hurried around the house and along the beaten trail through the high grass that led into the woods. She ran and the child bounced in her arms and she had just reached the edge of the woods when she looked back to see the vehicles skid to a stop in front of the house, a pale and powdery cloud rising around them. She heard the engines cut and the doors slam behind her and then she heard the shouts coming in her direction as the last of twilight seeped into the earth.

They called out as they chased her into the woods and the child squeezed her neck and held on but did not cry as she ran. She had gone far into these woods before but never far enough to know if there was anything on the other side and she was seized by the thought that she may run over the edge of the earth and that she and the child would plummet soundlessly into nothing. That thought was interrupted when a shotgun fired into the night, its echo ringing through the trees. She pushed harder. Squeezing the child close to her chest. Praying not to run over the edge or if there was such a thing praying that her fall would be brief and painless. Another shotgun blast. And then another. She knew then they were looking for him. She knew there was a fine damn reason he had never returned. She knew she and the child could never go back to the house. And she knew she would have to keep running.

* * *

They shivered through the night. Jessie unbuttoned her flannel shirt and held Jace against her skin and wrapped the shirt around them both but it did not stop the shaking. He cried some. Little whimpers of discomfort. Little whimpers of hunger. She sat on a pile of leaves with her back against a white oak and held him tight. Rocked a little. Hummed and sometimes sang and she kept promising that everything was going to be all right. The boy slept in increments, the ragged sleep of distress and discomfort. An owl hooted. Nightbirds sang. Deer moved in the dark and the sound of their creeping sounded like monsters in wait.

Excerpted from Salvage This World by Zadie Smith. Copyright © 2023 by Zadie Smith. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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