‘Hands of Strangers’ packs emotional punch

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

It’s almost silly to say having a child changes a person because it’s such an obvious statement.
But Michael F. Smith, 41, understands the truth of that statement in a unique way.
Before Smith and his wife, Sabrea, had their first daughter, Presley, he was writing a novella about parents dealing with their child’s abduction.
“It was very hard to go back and work on the revisions after she was born,” said Smith, who now has a second daughter, Brooklyn.
He did go back and do the work, and he’ll attend a signing of “The Hands of Strangers” at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo from noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday.
There’s a scene in the book where the father, Jon, snaps on the streets of Paris.
It’s three months after Jon’s daughter, Jennifer, went missing. He’s had too much to drink, and he has a duffel bag full of missing posters to hand out.
“’Look here! Win fifty-thousand euros!’ (Jon) says as he passes people walking along the sidewalk, getting off the bus, standing in the entrances of doorways. ‘Win fifty-thousand euros! Make your dreams come true! Take that vacation you’ve always wanted to take! All you have to do is find the little girl!’”
It’s a powerful moment, one a father might understand especially well.
“That’s one of the scenes I added after my daughter was born,” Smith said. “That’s maybe how I would react to it.”
An assistant professor of creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, Smith got the idea for the story when he was in Paris.
“I saw the flyer that Jon puts up in the Paris metro: ‘Please help us find our daughter.’ It struck me in a way I’ll never forget,” he said. “I imagined the father lugging this satchel through the metro and putting up flyers that he and his wife had made at a print shop.”

‘Apathetic Paris’
“The Hands of Strangers” relies heavily on the years Smith spent in Switzerland and France after the McComb native graduated from Mississippi State University.
His descriptions of life in Geneva might convince you to call your travel agent.
He also brings Paris to life on the page, but not in the romantic way it’s often depicted. For a tourist, the settings would be delightful, but not for Jennifer’s parents, Jon and Estelle.
“It’s a different side of Paris. It’s a dark Paris. It’s an apathetic Paris,” he said. “Estelle feels betrayed by Paris. Now, all of the sudden, she is devastated. There’s nowhere she can go in the city that doesn’t remind her of what’s happened.”
Available from Main Street Rag Publishing Company, “The Hands of Strangers” packs a punch over the course of 123 pages.
“In this anxiety-ridden little gem,” a review in Publishers Weekly said, “Smith captures the essence of the helpless, making more of an impact than most novels three times its size.”
Smith is aware that he’s tackled an emotionally challenging subject, but said the novella has more to offer than pain and suffering.
“When people ask me what it’s about, my response is I think it’s about hope,” he said. “That’s what you have to have, faith and hope, in such a dark time.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@journalinc.com.