The deck was never stacked in Jack Boucher’s favor. Readers first meet him as a toddler abandoned at a Salvation Army secondhand store in Tunica, and life only gets more harsh from there. Michael Farris Smith’s main character in “The Fighter” is a broken man on the fringes, a washed-up, bare-knuckle fighter haunted by regret, gambling debt and painkillers. Boucher (Boo-shay) is in need of redemption. The desperate quest unfolds in the pages of Smith’s new novel released March 20 by Little, Brown and Co. New York Times bestselling author Ace Atkins describes it as “Southern noir at its finest.”
Smith will be at the Columbus Arts Council’s Rosenzweig Arts Center Monday from 5:30-7 p.m. for a book signing and a 6 p.m. writer’s talk about his blistering novel. It’s part of a whirlwind launch week for the author who earlier this month was featured at the Adelaide Festival in Australia and, in two weeks, will be at the Quais du Polar literary and film festival in France.
“It was important to me to do all the Mississippi events in the first week of release,” Smith said during a visit to The Dispatch. “I wanted it to be concentrated in my home state.”
The author’s previous releases include “Desperation Road,” “Rivers” and “The Hands of Strangers.” Like much of his work, “The Fighter” was written in Columbus, before Smith relocated to Oxford in mid-2017.
“This (book) was a different experience for me because I wrote it without interruption in my wonderful little writing space here,” Smith said. “I was waiting for ‘Desperation Road’ to come out, so it was like seven to eight months of being really focused.”
Smith is close to all his characters, but Jack stands out.
“When he came alive to me, when he first appeared to me … with the physical pain, the concussions that would have gone untreated, how he would deal with that, the painkillers … I couldn’t not sit down and follow him,” the author shared. “This book resonated with me more on a personal level. There is something about Jack that I think was as close to me as anything I’ve written.”
Process and praise
Smith savors the “quiet time” of the solitary writing process, the time when an author sits and thinks about characters and story.
“This creative energy comes over you, and you don’t know where it’s going, but you just let it drive you,” he said.
It’s enjoyable, too, to be able to celebrate with others when those characters and story are public in print. “It’s always fun to see what particular things people respond to.”
Praise for the new novel is widespread.
“Smith excels in this dark and violent Southern grit-lit thriller … ” reads the Library Journal’s starred review.
“Michael Farris Smith is so good, I might actually hate him a little bit,” wrote Attica Locke, author of “Bluebird, Bluebird.” “‘The Fighter’ is a book I wish I’d written but am deeply grateful I got to read … A masterful portrait of place and character … ”
Smith is the recipient of the Mississippi Author Award for Fiction, the Transatlantic Review Award and the Brick Streets Press Short Story Award among other honors. His novels have appeared on Best of the Year lists in Esquire, Southern Living and Book Riot as well as other publications.
All are welcome at Monday’s book signing and writer’s talk at the arts center located at 501 Main St., Columbus. There is no cost to attend.
For more information, visit columbus-arts.org or call 662-328-2787.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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