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Driftless

Driftless

3.7 329
by David Rhodes
     
 

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When David Rhodes' first three novels were published in the mid-seventies, he was acclaimed as "one of the best eyes in recent fiction" (John Gardner), and compared favorably to Sherwood Anderson. In 1976, a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, and unpublished for the subsequent three decades. With Driftless, Rhodes returns to the midwestern

Overview

When David Rhodes' first three novels were published in the mid-seventies, he was acclaimed as "one of the best eyes in recent fiction" (John Gardner), and compared favorably to Sherwood Anderson. In 1976, a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, and unpublished for the subsequent three decades. With Driftless, Rhodes returns to the midwestern landscape he knows so well, offering a fascinating and entirely unsentimental portrait of a town apparently left behind by the march of time. Home to a few hundred people yet absent from state maps, Words, Wisconsin, comes richly to life by way of an extraordinary cast of characters. Among them, a middle-aged couple guards the family farm from the mendacious schemes of their milk co-operative; a lifelong paraplegic suddenly regains the use of her legs, only to find herself crippled by fury at her sister and caretaker; a woman of conflicting impulses and pastor of the local Friends church stumbles upon an enlightenment she never expected; a cantankerous retiree discovers a cougar living in his haymow, haunting him like a childhood memory; and a former drifter forever alters the ties that bind a community together. At once intimate and funny, wise and generous, Driftless is an unforgettable story of contemporary life in rural America.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

After a 30-year absence from publishing due to a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed, Rhodes is back with a novel featuring July Montgomery, the hero of his 1975 novel, Rock Island Line, which movingly involves him with the fates of several characters who live in the small town of Words, Wis. Through July, we meet Olivia Brasso, an invalid who loses her family's savings at a casino; parolee Wade Armbuster, who befriends Olivia after she is mugged; Winifred Smith, Olivia's new pastor; Jacob Helm, a widower who finds himself falling in love with Winnie; Gail Shotwell, a local musician who has an unusual reaction when her idol offers to record one of her songs; and Gail's brother, Grahm, and his wife, Cora, who blow the whistle on the milk cooperative that has been cheating them and other farmers. It takes a while for all these stories to kick in, but once they do, Rhodes shows he still knows how to keep readers riveted. Add a blizzard, a marauding cougar and some rabble-rousing militiamen, and the result is a novel that is as affecting as it is pleasantly overstuffed. (Oct.)

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Library Journal

Winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, Rhodes's first novel in over 30 years is set in a rural area of Wisconsin so remote and forgotten that it's left off the map. Most of the residents have chosen to be isolated from the world around them and one another. Nevertheless, their concerns-the meaning of spirituality, family, love, and desire-are global and universal. The half-dozen or so subplots include an elderly man overcoming his mistrust of the area's recent Amish immigrants, a farm couple battling corporate and government corruption, and a sheltered disabled woman whose life changes radically. In the end, it eventually becomes clear that July Montgomery, a loner with a secretive past, is the glue that holds the community together. The characters and their struggles come vibrantly alive, though Rhodes's didactic authorial voice at times overwhelms the narrative and seeps into the dialog. Recommended for regional and larger public libraries.
—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman

Kirkus Reviews
Rhodes's first novel in more than 30 years (Rock Island Line, 1975, etc.) provides a welcome antidote to overheated urban fiction. When folks have a drink in Words, Wis., it's generally coffee or hot water with lemon that they turn to. When they cuss, they say "drat." Life is slow and rural; it's farm country, and locals care about the rhythms of the seasons, their roots in the community and each other. All is not well, however, when the milk cooperative tries to increase its profit margins at the expense of honest farmers. That doesn't sit well with Grahm and Cora Shotwell, who try to expose the cooperative's machinations. This is but one episode among many, however, in a deliberately episodic novel. The lack of a central narrative thread makes it possible for Rhodes to introduce us in stages to the community's major players. We make the acquaintance of newly-minted pastor Winifred Smith, whose cryptic spiritual epiphany starts to inform every aspect of her life; of July Montgomery, who mysteriously showed up some 20 years ago and whose quiet devotion to farming conceals a tragic past; of Grahm's sister Gail, who works in the local plastics factory and plays bass in a band; and of sisters Violet and Olivia Brasso, the latter an 89-pound invalid who's emotionally rescued by roughneck Wade Armbuster through the unlikely medium of dogfighting. Things happen in Words, but in a decidedly slow way. Cora gets fired from her job, Winifred tries to explain the nature of her spiritual awakening, curmudgeonly Rusty Smith hires some Amish carpenters to finish up some work on his home. Most importantly, people learn to overcome their reticence, occasionally even opening themselves to the possibilityof falling in love. Olivia recognizes the essential stability of the community by declaring that "new is only old rearranged."A quiet novel of depth and simplicity.
From the Publisher

Accolades for Driftless:
Outstanding Achievement Award, Wisconsin Library Association’s Literary Award Committee
California Literary Review Best Book
Booklist starred review and Editor’s Choice
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor’s Regional Literary Award
All Iowa Reads selection, State Library of Iowa’s Center for the Book
Midwestern Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA) Honor Award
Christian Science Monitor top ten books of the year

“Now, after what had to have been years of effort beyond the usual struggle of trying to make a good novel, we get [Rhodes’s] fourth, and, I have to shout it out, finest book yet. Driftless is the best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years.”
—Chicago Tribune

“A profound and enduring paean to rural America. Radiant in its prose and deep in its quiet understanding of human needs.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Driftless is a fast-moving story about small town life with characters that seem to have walked off the pages of Edgar Lee Masters’s ‘Spoon River Anthology.’”
—Wall Street Journal

“Comprised of a large number of short chapters, the novel opens with a prologue reminiscent of Steinbeck’s beautiful tribute to the Salinas Valley in the opening of East of Eden, with a little touch of Michener’s prologue to his novel Hawaii. The book moves at a stately pace as it offers deep philosophy and meditative asides about life in Words, Wisconsin, in the Driftless zone, which is to say, about life on earth.”
—NPR, “All Things Considered”

“Few books have the power to transport the way Driftless does, and it’s Rhodes’ eye for detail that we have to thank for it.”
—Time Out Chicago

“A wry and generous book. Driftless shares a rhythm with the farming community it documents, and its reflective pace is well-suited to characters who are far more comfortable with hard work than words.”
—Christian Science Monitor, Best Novels of 2008

“A symphonic paean to the stillness that can be found in certain areas of the Midwest, The writing in Driftless is beautiful and surprising throughout, [and] it’s this poetic pointillism that originally made Rhodes famous.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Driftless] presents a series of portraits that resemble Edgar Lee Masters’s 'Spoon River Anthology' in their vividness and in the cumulative picture they create of village life. Each of these stories glimmers.”
—New Yorker

“Rhodes consciously avoids drama to deliver a portrait of a real rural America as singular, beautiful and foreign as anywhere else.”
—Philadelphia City Paper

“Rhodes shows he still knows how to keep readers riveted. As affecting as it is pleasantly overstuffed.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Encompassing and incisive, comedic and profound, Driftless is a radiant novel of community and courage.”
—Booklist, 2008 Editor’s Choice, starred review

“Though Driftless is a deeply contemporary tale—what it has to say about the way corporations treat small farmers is, for example, quite pressing—it also has the architectural complexity of the great 19th-century novels, but without the gimcrackery too often required to hold their stories together. It partakes as much of the moral universe of Magnolia as of Middlemarch. And it earns comparison to both.”
—Books & Culture

“Unique, funny, absorbing, at times frightening. A novel crafted by a real writer.”
—California Literary Review, Best Books of 2008

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781441721624
Publisher:
Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
01/01/2010
Edition description:
Unabridged
Pages:
13
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.90(d)

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Accolades for Driftless:
Outstanding Achievement Award, Wisconsin Library Association’s Literary Award Committee California Literary Review Best Book
Booklist starred review and Editor’s Choice University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor’s Regional Literary Award All Iowa Reads selection, State Library of Iowa’s Center for the Book Midwestern Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA) Honor Award
Christian Science Monitor top ten books of the year

“Now, after what had to have been years of effort beyond the usual struggle of trying to make a good novel, we get [Rhodes’s] fourth, and, I have to shout it out, finest book yet. Driftless is the best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years.”
—Chicago Tribune

“A profound and enduring paean to rural America. Radiant in its prose and deep in its quiet understanding of human needs.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Driftless is a fast-moving story about small town life with characters that seem to have walked off the pages of Edgar Lee Masters’s ‘Spoon River Anthology.’”
—Wall Street Journal

“Comprised of a large number of short chapters, the novel opens with a prologue reminiscent of Steinbeck’s beautiful tribute to the Salinas Valley in the opening of East of Eden, with a little touch of Michener’s prologue to his novel Hawaii. The book moves at a stately pace as it offers deep philosophy and meditative asides about life in Words, Wisconsin, in the Driftless zone, which is to say, about life on earth.”
—NPR, “All Things Considered”

“Few books have the power to transport the way Driftless does, and it’s Rhodes’ eye for detail that we have to thank for it.”
—Time Out Chicago

“A wry and generous book. Driftless shares a rhythm with the farming community it documents, and its reflective pace is well-suited to characters who are far more comfortable with hard work than words.”
—Christian Science Monitor, Best Novels of 2008

“A symphonic paean to the stillness that can be found in certain areas of the Midwest, The writing in Driftless is beautiful and surprising throughout, [and] it’s this poetic pointillism that originally made Rhodes famous.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Driftless] presents a series of portraits that resemble Edgar Lee Masters’s 'Spoon River Anthology' in their vividness and in the cumulative picture they create of village life. Each of these stories glimmers.”
—New Yorker

“Rhodes consciously avoids drama to deliver a portrait of a real rural America as singular, beautiful and foreign as anywhere else.”
—Philadelphia City Paper

“Rhodes shows he still knows how to keep readers riveted. As affecting as it is pleasantly overstuffed.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Encompassing and incisive, comedic and profound, Driftless is a radiant novel of community and courage.”
—Booklist 2008 Editor’s Choice, starred review

“Though Driftless is a deeply contemporary tale—what it has to say about the way corporations treat small farmers is, for example, quite pressing—it also has the architectural complexity of the great 19th-century novels, but without the gimcrackery too often required to hold their stories together. It partakes as much of the moral universe of Magnolia as of Middlemarch. And it earns comparison to both.”
—Books & Culture

“Unique, funny, absorbing, at times frightening. A novel crafted by a real writer.”
—California Literary Review, Best Books of 2008

Meet the Author

DAVID RHODES received an MFA degree from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1971. He published three novels in rapid succession The Last Fair Deal Going Down, The Easter House, and Rock Island Line. In 1977 a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. He lives with is wife, Edna, in rural Wisconsin.

Lloyd James hails from the Midwest. He received his B.A. in theater from a small liberal-arts college in New Mexico. He acts in the theater when his schedule permits and spends much of his free time working in his garden. He lives in Virginia with his wife and son.

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