driftless1Apparently 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.

–Bruce Benidt marketing salary nice tax settlement nice

8 thoughts on “Driftless

  1. I will resist buying an Amazon Kindle like Hillary Clinton resisted Barack’s victory in the Democratic primary: with every fiber of my being.

    There’s no way in hell that hunk of plastic would smell and fell nearly as awesome as a 30-year-old soft-cover copy of “The Sun Also Rises.”

    Books. The other white meat.

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    A nice feature I personally would enjoy more of: Crowd staff and blogophiles sharing their experience with literature–and the arts. Boy, the quotes chosen from the Rhodes’ novel truly hit their target in the world many of us live in today.

  3. I almost mentioned this earlier, for you, Dennis: I’m reading another Rand book. “We the Living,” her first novel. Makes Communist Russia sound like quite the tourist destination!

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    Wow, that one’s still on the shelf with “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”. It was the last of the three novels I read. Right, as I recall the portrait of Russia wasn’t exactly an image of St. Barts. Heck, somewhere I even have copies of “The Ojectivist Newsletter.” But it was Howard Roark in “The Fountainhead” who was by far my favorite of her characters. The first line of the novel: “Howard Roark laughed” as he stands at the precipice of a granite quarry ranks up there with “Mother died today, or was it yesterday?” (“The Stranger”) in opening lines that capture the guts of a character in few words. But I was apolitical. Roark was simply the triumph of self-direction in an other-directed world , reflecting my then age sixteen artistic aspirations. I read it as an existentialist novel, a denial of a-priori values.

  5. Let me just say this, I suppose as a commentary on effective character development and my susceptibility to said craft: Reading “We the Living,” I find myself having fallen in love with Kira Argounova, much like I did with Catherine while reading Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.”

    I’m a sucker for a lovely leading lady.

  6. Dennis Lang says:

    Hmm…I’m going to revisit Ms. Argounova later today. MK, I’m thinking you may be an incurable romantic. Speaking from experience, I know this can be a heavy, occasionally painful burden–but worth it isn’t it? I think we’ll have to continue this conversation, hopefully not to the chagrin of the millions in the global Crowd Blogodrome. In the meantime, a healthy holiday to everyone!

  7. Ellen Mrja says:

    Happy Boxing Day to all you Anglophiles.

    A novel I received yesterday for Christmas provides quite a lovely first line. This from Michael Cox’s “The Meaning of Night: A Confession”:

    “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”

    Deception, obsession, murder await. I’m off to Victorian England. L8R.

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