‘Driftless’ by David Rhodes

Driving through rural America while reading this book was so perfect. Rhodes makes the characters come alive with the way he describes them…flawed, salt of the earth people just trying to cope with life and living. As we drove along cornfields, swept over soft green hillsides, and crept through tired and deflated little towns, it was possible to picture who might be living there. Rhodes’ writing is so generous and insightful without even a hint of cliché. This is slow reading that brings quiet understanding, so it won’t be for everyone, but it is a wonderful story to sink into for those who love authors who can speak to the wisdom of the soul and turn the mundane into profound reflections on life and humanity. Although having said that, shocking things do happen and at times the pace is fast-moving enough. Other authors who are similar in style are Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge), William Kent Kruger (Ordinary Grace), Mary Lawson (Crow Lake), and Marilynne Robinson (Gilead).

As a young man David Rhodes worked in fields, hospitals and factories across Iowa. After receiving an MFA degree from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (always pay attention to writers who have studied here, they are the best!) he published three novels from 1972-75. In 1977 a motorcycle accident left him paralysed from the chest down. After ten years he published again, with this sequel to his earlier novel Rock Island Line and prequel to Jewelweed which I am eager to read next. Rhodes lives with his wife, Edna, in rural Wisconsin.

In ten words or less this book is about a bunch of people muddling through in small town Wisconsin. But it is so much more than that. There is connection to the land, to place, and to community. There is mistrust of big business and industrialisation–things that are a threat to a simple way of life. There is a fidelity to good values, hard work, and something to believe in. Here’s what Goodreads says, “The setting is Words, Wisconsin, an anonymous town of only a few hundred people. But under its sleepy surface, life rages. Cora and Grahm guard their dairy farm, and family, from the wicked schemes of their milk co-op. Lifelong paraplegic Olivia suddenly starts to walk, only to find herself crippled by her fury toward her sister and caretaker, Violet. Recently retired Rusty finds a cougar living in his haymow, dredging up haunting childhood memories. Winifred becomes pastor of the Friends church and stumbles on enlightenment in a very unlikely place. Driftless finds the author’s powers undiminished in this unforgettable story that evokes a small-town America previously unmapped, and the damaged denizens who must make their way through it.”


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