Continental Drift [NOOK Book]

Overview

Now available for the first time in e-book format, 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.

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Continental Drift

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Overview

Now available for the first time in e-book format, 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.

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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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062123169
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/22/2011
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 164,986
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Russell Banks is one of America's most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.

Biography

Born in New England on March 28, 1940, Russell Banks was raised in a hardscrabble, working-class world that has profoundly shaped his writing. In Banks's compassionate, unlovely tales, people struggle mightily against economic hardship, family conflict, addictions, violence, and personal tragedy; yet even in the face of their difficulties, they often exhibit remarkable resilience and moral strength.

Although he began his literary career as a poet, Banks forayed into fiction in 1975 with a short story collection Searching for Survivors and his debut novel, Family Life. Several more critically acclaimed works followed, but his real breakthrough occurred with 1985's Continental Drift, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel that juxtaposes the startlingly different experiences of two families in America. In 1998, he earned another Pulitzer nomination for his historical novel Cloudsplitter, an ambitious re-creation of abolitionist John Brown.

Since the 1980s, Banks has lived in upstate New York -- a region he (like fellow novelists William Kennedy and Richard Russo) has mined to great effect in several novels. Two of his most powerful stories, Affliction (1990) and The Sweet Hereafter (1991), have been adapted for feature films. (At least two others have been optioned.) He has also received numerous honors and literary awards, including the prestigious John Dos Passos Prize for fiction.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 28, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newton, Massachusetts

Read an Excerpt

Pissed

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.
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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Engrossing and visionary, comic and heartbreaking, Continental Drift tells the story of two people from different worlds moving slowly, yet inevitably toward each other as they search for a better life. It is set in the late seventies and early eighties, when America is plagued with recession, unemployment, and unprecedented crime. It is also the dawn of eighties' materialism--when it seems that the opportunity to make a quick buck is no longer the privilege of the rich alone. Workers, immigrants, even the urban poor begin to believe that wealth is within their grasp. Bob DuBois believes it too. Literally overnight he decides to leave his seemingly dead-end existence in New Hampshire and move his family to Florida, a place whose climate, population, and culture are at odds with the world Bob has known all his life.

For Haitian Vanise Dorsinvilles, Florida is also the land of opportunity. Like Bob, she realizes that there is nothing for her at home--and everything awaiting her at the end of her journey. With fewer possessions, and a far more perilous route, Vanise makes her desperate way north and east, enduring rape, forced labor, betrayal, near-drowning, and ultimately the loss of her child and her nephew.

In his portrait of contemporary America, Russell Banks focuses on two obscure lives driven by yearning, spiritual strength, and the hope for salvation. Caught up in the currents of their desire, Bob and Vanise drift helplessly from one predicament to another. Without money, neither feels capable of changing the course their lives have taken. Why can't these two people find a better life in Florida? They are both good, honest, and hardworking; thatshould be enough in the fabled land of opportunity. But as Banks shows us, other, stronger forces are at work. Racial prejudice, economic disparity, religious and social conventions, and most of all greed stand in the way of Bob's and Vanise's dreams. In the end, Bob dies in a back alley of Miami's "Little Haiti," and his wife and children return to New Hampshire destined for a life not much different from the one they tried to escape in the first place. Vanise, having lost what little she had, is now bereft of even her soul--she may as well be dead. Both lives, wasted, disappear from view, as the world and others move forward to take their place. It is up to us, Banks implies at the end of this devastating novel, not only to acknowledge the experiences of these characters, but to make sense of the seemingly inexorable drift of their lives and grieve their deaths.

Topics for Discussion

  • What are your feelings about Bob Dubois and how did they change over the course of the novel? To what extent is Bob responsible for what happens to him and his family? To what extent is he a victim of circumstance and of those who take advantage of him? Do you consider Bob to be an "everyman"?
  • Banks compares the movement of refugees and other people escaping unbearable circumstance to the patterns of the earth's currents and geological shifts. How does this metaphor inform the novel? Is Banks saying that such human movement is inevitable and unavoidable? Are Bob's and Vanise's stories part of a larger, universal phenomenon?
  • What part does Vanise's religion, voodoo, play in her life and in the decisions she makes? How does her faith support her--and how does it betray her?
  • Even though he doesn't practice an organized religion, in what ways is Bob spiritual?
  • Given that Bob loves Elaine, what motivates him to cheat on her? What, if anything, does Marguerite offer Bob that Elaine can't provide? How is Marguerite's race a significant factor in Bob's relationship with her?
  • Family relationships and violence are common themes in Banks's work. What roles do they play in this novel?
  • In the chapter "Making a Killing," Bob meditates on the difference between hunters and fishermen, declaring himself to be the latter. Do you think this is true, based on Bob's actions and thoughts? What does this suggest about his potential for success?
  • Why do you think Bob decided to smuggle Haitian immigrants but not drugs? Is Bob any better than the smugglers with whom Vanise first traveled, who raped her and subjected her to such horrible conditions on board the boat?
  • Discuss Banks's narrative technique and the novel's structure. How do Bob's and Vanise's stories inform one another? When and how does Banks's narrator intrude, and when does the narrator speak from a distance? How do the italicized first and last sections frame the novel, and to what effect?
  • Why do you think Banks "killed off" Bob Dubois? Why couldn't he and Elaine have returned to New Hampshire? How does Bob's death--and its circumstances--support the novel's themes?
  • What makes Continental Drift a classic? Do you think it will still be considered an important book fifty years from now? Why or why not?
    About the Author: Russell Banks was raised in New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts. The eldest of four children, he grew up in a working-class, hardscrabble world that has played a major role in shaping his writing.

Banks (the first in his family to go to college) attended Colgate University "for less than a semester," and later graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before he could support himself as a writer, he tried his hand at plumbing, and worked as a shoe salesman and window dresser. More recently, he has taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, University of New Hampshire, New England College and New York University.

A prolific writer of fiction, his titles include: Searching for Survivors, Family Life, Hamilton Stark, The New World, The Book of Jamaica, Trailerpark, The Relation of My Imprisonment, Continental Drift, Success Stories, Rule of the Bone, Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter (the latter two of which were made into feature films). His latest novel, Cloudsplitter is a national bestseller and has garnered critical acclaim.

Banks has also contributed poems, stories and essays to The Boston Globe Magazine, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, Harper's and many other publications.

Banks has won numerous awards and prizes for his work, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, Ingram Merril Award, the St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, the John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Continental Drift was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and Affliction was short-listed for both the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Prize and the Irish International Prize.

Banks has lived in a variety of places, from New England to Jamaica, which have contributed to the richness of his writing. He is married to the poet Chase Twichell and is the father of four grown daughters. He lives in Dublin, Ireland and summers in Cape Cod, MA.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Lost in Contemporary America

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2008

    The Loa Narrator

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2003

    tastless

    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

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    Excellent Book!

    GREAT GREAT STORY. Changed my viewpoint on my things.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted November 28, 2010

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    Posted June 26, 2010

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    Posted February 24, 2012

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