Driftless

Our staff book discussion genre for June was Regional Fiction and the leader selected a book from our state:  Driftless by David Rhodes.  What a delight this book turned out to be.

Set in the southwest corner of Wisconsin where the glaciers did not go, the region gets its driftless nickname from landscape which proves to be rich for farmers.  When we join the town of Words, WI, in this novel, the death of the family farm is in full swing.  The novel is populated with three types of characters:  those hanging on with desperation to honor the traditions of the past by clinging to their farms, those who see the area as a place to escape from whatever demons are pursuing them, and the shadowy overlords who are making a profit off the land at the expense of those who live on it.

This is a character rich novel with so many enjoyable personalities.  Perhaps the most appealing is July Montgomery, a wanderer who settled in Words to escape a past of drifting.  Winifer Smith is the pastor at the local church who feels that too many people mock her.  The sisters Brasso are a pair to watch with one confined to a wheelchair while the other acts as a mother hen.  Grahm Shotwell and his wife Cora farm with integrity while challenging the local cooperative as Grahm’s sister Gail holds down the bass position in the local band Straight Flush. 

This is character soup which Rhodes uses to complete advantage.  Each character is fully defined and also acts as a channel for the author’s technique of speaking about great issues through the thoughts of each of the characters.  That makes this book dense and rich, a narrative that will have to be read, not skimmed.

The ability to set a novel in a region that makes you feel like you can see, hear and smell it is a unique talent and Rhodes is able to all of this.  I have been in this region of my state and I can testify that it accurately captures the loneliness of its restless beauty.

Any book discussion group, in any region, will love the challenge of this story and the wonderful characters who live in it.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

1 Comment on "Driftless"

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  1. The six Green County [Wisconsin] public libraries selected this book as our first-ever Green County Reads title eaarlier this spring. We hosted a series of book discussions in our libraries and the Monroe Arts Center brought David Rhodes in as a speaker for their Spring Author series. A wonderful book and a wonderful experience!

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