Apparently Christmas is coming up pretty soon. If you’re looking for a gift to give someone, or something to ask for, consider a wonderful novel from Minneapolis’s Milkweed Editions — Driftless, by David Rhodes.
Reading Driftless, I had a weird assemblage of writers come to mind — a little like the bar scene from Star Wars. How do you get Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the great Nebraska writer Jonis Agee, Alice Hoffman, Larry Woiwode, Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Lee Masters and Lee Smith all in the same room? And then a hip Willa Cather walks in. And she’s reading W.P. Kinsella. Latin America, North Dakota, Appalachia — what’s going on here? It’s just good storytelling, with rich evocations of life in rural America. Rhodes looks small-town and farm life straight in the face, and sees the radiance and the darkness. He writes of the people who live in and around a small Wisconsin town: “Like people who refuse to update their wardrobes, they simply ignored all evidence that their manner of life had expired.” And, “The town stood in its own shadow of better times…” Of one character, whose dairy farm is on the edge, Rhodes writes, “His inner life felt like a theatrical production in which the major players did not even bother to show up and the minor players attempted to continue without them.” I have days like that.
This sounds dark, but it’s more than that. It’s a lark, in some ways, and gives the feel of spring wind blowing across new green. People’s fortunes rise and fall, and all those words you read in book reviews apply — resonant, redemptive, perseverance, enriching, poignant…
Rhodes wrote three previous books in the 1970s, then was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and didn’t publish again. If I recall the story correctly from my friend Jorg Pierach, who’s on Milkweed’s board, someone from Milkweed heard about Rhodes, or thought about him again, or ran into him, and asked if he’d been writing. Yes. Did he have any manuscripts? Yes. In the desk drawer. And the good people at Milkweed read Driftless and now it’s between covers. And would fit nicely into your hands. I saw copies at Barnes & Noble, and you can buy from the Milkweed link above.
Rhodes’s title refers to the part of southwestern Wisconsin that the glaciers missed. It’s a land not scraped flat and dull by the ice sheets, also not left drifted with the earth bulldozed down from Canada by the ice. It’s original territory. Worth a journey.
Three other books I’ve mentioned this year on this blog would also be good presents — Dave Mona’s lively local tales, Beyond the Sports Huddle, Mona on Minnesota; a collection of road stories published by my buddy John Gaterud with his daughter Abbey called Stardust and Fate, The Blueroad Reader; and City of Parks, the Story of Minneapolis Parks, by Dave Smith, insightful local history and a beautiful book.
Books. They’re what’s for dinner.