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Continental Drift
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Continental Drift

3.5 11
by Russell Banks

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A powerful literary classic from one of contemporary fiction's most acclaimed and important writers, Russell Banks's Continental Drift is a masterful novel of hope lost and gained, and a gripping, indelible story of fragile lives uprooted and transformed by injustice, disappointment, and the seductions and realities of the American dream.


A powerful literary classic from one of contemporary fiction's most acclaimed and important writers, Russell Banks's Continental Drift is a masterful novel of hope lost and gained, and a gripping, indelible story of fragile lives uprooted and transformed by injustice, disappointment, and the seductions and realities of the American dream.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On the extravagant, shallow promises of his brother, Bob Dubois, 30, a burnt-out New Hampshire oil burner repairman, takes his family to Florida. There the Duboises meet their destiny in the form of a counterpoint familythat of Vanise Dorsinville, a woman who has fled Haiti with her infant and nephew for a better life in the U.S. PW praised Continental Drift as a ``vital, compelling novel.'' (April)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.02(d)

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It's December 21, 1979, a Friday, in Catamount, New Hampshire. It's late in the day, windless and cold, bits of snow dropping from a dark, low sky. At this latitude at this time of year, the sun sets at three forty-five, and Catamount, a river town laid north and south between a pair of glacial moraines, settles quickly without twilight into darkness. Light simply gets replaced by cold, and the rest remains the same.

A half foot of old crusty snow has covered the ground since the first week of the month, followed by days and nights of dry cold, so that the snow has merely aged, turning slowly gray in yards and on rooftops and in heaps alongside the streets, pitted and spotted along sidewalks and pathways by dogs and mottled everywhere with candy wrappers, beer cans and crumpled cigarette packs. The parking lots and sidewalks, plowed and salted weeks ago, are the color of ash, so that new snow gently falling comes as a cleansing fresh coat of paint, a whitewash that hides the old, stained and tainted world underneath.

Robert Raymond Dubois (pronounced locally as "Doo-boys"), an oil burner repairman for the Abenaki Oil Company, walks slowly from the squat, dark brick garage where he has parked the company truck, walks hunched over with careful effort, like a man in a blizzard, though snow is falling lightly and there is no wind. He wears a dark blue trooper coat with a far collar, and a black watchcap. In one hand he carries a black lunchbox, in the other an envelope containing his weekly paycheck, one hundred thirty-seven dollars and forty-four cents.

Dubois thinks, A man reaches thirty, and he works at a trade for eight years for thesame company, even goes to oil burner school nights for a year, and he stays honest, he doesn't sneak copper tubing or tools into his car at night, he doesn't put in for time he didn't work, he doesn't drink on the job-a man does his work, does it for eight long years, and for that he gets to take home to his wife and two kids a weekly paycheck for one hundred thirty-seven dollars and forty-four cents. Dirt money. Chump change. Money gone before it's got. No money at all. Bob does not think it, but he knows that soon the man stops smiling so easily, and when he does smile, it's close to a sneer. And what he once was grateful for, a job, a wife, kids, a house, he comes to regard as a burden, a weight that pulls his chin slowly to his chest, and because he was grateful once, he feels foolish now, cheated somehow by himself.

Dubois parks his car on Depot Street facing downhill toward the river and tight to the tailgate of a salt-covered pickup truck. It's snowing harder now, steadily and in large, soft flakes, and the street is slick and white. Black footprints follow him across the street to a brick building where there are apartments in the upper two stories and a used clothing store, a paint store and a bar at street level, and he enters the bar, Irwin's Restaurant and Lounge. The restaurant is in front, a long, narrow room the size of a railroad car, filled with bright green plastic-covered booths and Formica-topped tables. The room is brightly lit and deserted, but in back, through an archway, the bar is dark and crowded.

The bartender, a muscular woman in her mid-fifties with a beer-barrel body and a large, hard, lipsticked mouth and a mass of bleached blond hair arranged carefully to resemble a five-and-dime wig, greets Dubois and shoves an opened bottle of Schlitz across the wet bar to him. Her name, unbelievably, is Pearl, and she is Irwin's help. In a year Irwin will die of a heart attack and Pearl will buy out his estate and will finally own the business she has run for decades.

These northern New England milltown bars are like Irish pubs. In a community closed in by weather and geography, where the men work at jobs and the women work at home and raise children and there's never enough money, the men and the women tend to feel angry toward one another much of the time, especially in the evenings when the work is done and the children are sleeping and nothing seems improved over yesterday. It's an unhappy solution to the problem, that men and women should take pleasure in the absence of their mates, but here it's a necessary one, for otherwise they would beat and maim and kill one another even more than they do.

Dubois is sitting at a small table in a shadowed corner of the bar, talking slowly in a low voice to a woman in her mid-thirties. Her name is Doris Cleeve. Twice divorced from brutal young men by the time she was twenty-eight, Doris has nursed her hurt ever since with alcohol and the company of men married to someone else. She is confused about where to go, what to do with her life now, and as a result, she plays her earlier life, her marriages and divorces, over and over again. As in certain country and western records on the jukebox by the door, Doris's past never fails to move her.

Except for her slightly underslung jaw, which makes her seem pugnacious, she's a pretty woman and not at all pugnacious. She wears her ash blond hair short, stylish for Catamount, and dresses in ski sweaters and slacks, as if she thinks she is petite, though in fact she is...

Continental Drift. Copyright © by Russell Banks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

John Edgar Wideman
At its deepest level, Continental Drift is about a culture imagining itself. Black, white, New World, Old World, living and dead, animal and mineral, a startling array of voices perform this act of creation. Banks has captured the din, clamor, and chaos of these voices clearly and convincingly.

Meet the Author

Russell Banks is the author of poetry, nonfiction, and more than fifteen works of fiction admired for their realism and portrayal of working-class people. Cloudsplitter and Continental Drift were both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes. Two of his novels, The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction, have been made into award-winning films. A member of the International Parliament of Writers and former New York State Author, Banks was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996. He lives in upstate New York.

Zach Villa is a stage, film, and television performer. Classically trained in acting, Villa’s audiobook work includes The World without You by Joshua Henkin and Butterfly Winter by W. P. Kinsella.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 28, 1940
Place of Birth:
Newton, Massachusetts

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Continental Drift 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
falls_rogue More than 1 year ago
This book is a good read for anyone who has lost the american dream and for those contemplating desperate measures to reacquire it. I know the characters in this book and so do you. Banks paints a picture of the rotting fabric of American life and the disillusion that accompanies it. There are two stories told. One of white-working class angst and the other of black immigrant desperation. The two story lines collide with tragic results.
JH_Climber More than 1 year ago
In reading Continental Drift, a tragedy in every sense, I was struck by how usual the novel was in its structure and its distinct narrator. Banks employs a Haitian loa (a spirit of the dead) to tell us the story of Bob Dubois, a frustrated, blue-collar resident of New Hampshire, and Vanise Dorsonville, a Haitian immigrant, and young mother, looking to escape to America for a significantly better life. The traditional use of the narrator as an all-knowing persona, as Russell Banks explains is "a convention that went out the window in the twentieth century." While there has been a series of literary movements concerned with varying degrees of realism and a reduction in the psychic distance between readers and characters, Banks, in telling the story of disparate characters a world apart said, "I want to feel I have my arm around a shoulder of the reader and I¿m explaining, narrating, telling a wonderful story to the person I¿ve stopped, like the wedding guest in Coleridge¿s The Ancient Mariner¿And I want to have that sense of intimacy, a face-to-face, arm around the shoulder contact." The use of the "omniscient" (psychically and physically detached narrator), in Banks's novel, creates an unusual richness in detail, characterization, and commentary that would be more difficult to achieve using third person limited point of view. And the loa, because he appeared to have no vested interest in manipulating the details of the story, seemed to be a more "reliable," believable, and interesting narrator of events than a story told from first person point of view. In a way, what Banks has done has fed the loas with his work, and tried to change how we see those we often look down upon. And, in truth, this is all an author can ask: to try to change the world through stories, through imaginary lives, and through the power of the written word.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GREAT GREAT STORY. Changed my viewpoint on my things.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Want to read a book about a hockey jock who actually notices he has a perfectly wonderful wife but makes it with every woman that crosses his path anyway? Interested in hearing what someone outside the culture has to say about voodoo? Or how about just page after page of the daily details of a really clueless guy's mundane sordid life? There is a little geography thrown in for fans in case you might be interested. Save your time. Don't pollute your mind with this book. D. Lee