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Continental Drift by Russell Banks
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Continental Drift (1985)

by Russell Banks

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6951513,692 (3.77)35

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Given the glowing review quotes on the back cover of this book, including one by Joyce Carol Oates, you might imagine that Continental Drift was a minor classic. But I found this book, first published in 1985, to be deeply flawed, and I wonder whether it was a novel that made a deep impression because it accurately reflected the tenor of its times, but just hasn't stood up that well. Continental Drift is the noirish story of Bob Dubois, a good man with a good, if normal, life -- steady if low paying job, good family life, good community -- who one day realizes the dead end he's in and wants out. So the family packs up and moves from New Hampshire to Florida at the behest Bob's older brother, who has a job and promises of "get rich soon" for him. It does not take a fortune teller to let you know this is not going to work out well. Additionally, there is a very good side plot about Haitians trying to get to America.

There is a lot of very good writing in this novel, which is what kept me going, but it's a book of bleakness and foreboding, a depressing book without the greatness of, say, Under the Volcano or The Executioner's Song, to help mitigate the sense of dread. Bob is presented as a good man, but his choices are all bad, and his self-pity made me lose patience relatively soon. I do think that atmosphere of bleakness is emblematic of the 80s, I time when whatever was left of the promise of the counter-culture was clearly gone for good, and what was left was the heartless politics and the mad scramble for cash of the Regan years. I was talking this over with my wife last night. We both agreed that while our current times feel somehow more desperate than the 80s were, that era was bleaker. So I can understand how readers then might have felt they were seeing their world represented. But while there's still plenty of insight into the human condition, here, I felt that the main character was too weak a figure for the book to hold up overall. ( )
  rocketjk | Aug 10, 2015 |
I liked this book - mostly. I've never been to America but it seemed like a pretty good description of what life could be like. I especially found resonance with the character and situation of Bob. His relationship with his brother and his concept of his brother's life was explored well. Indeed, it was probably explored at significantly greater depth than I was able to perceive and comprehend. Likewise Bob's relationship with women. I think I'd probably benefit from studying this book in English 101 (or American Culture 101). I wasn't so interested in the Haitian's religiosity. I suspect the author was trying to say something that didn't get through to me! ( )
  oldblack | Sep 15, 2013 |
Didn't read all of this ~ ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
You certainly cannot label this novel a "feel-good book." Russell Banks once again plumbs the depths of man's soul and his struggle (usually fruitless) to obtain a certain moral certainty in his life. The story starts off just before Christmas in New Hampshire and ends in a dingy back alley in the Haitian section of Miami. Another great novel by one of my favorite writers. ( )
  hayduke | Apr 3, 2013 |
Really good book. Depressing, but brilliantly written. I've always liked Russell Banks but somehow missed this one, which was his first commercial success. ( )
  meredk | Jan 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
While the scope of ''Continental Drift'' is huge - the author wants to do nothing less than capture American life as it exists today - it remains, somehow, acutely personal; in the story of Bob Dubois's sad, brief life, we catch a frightening glimpse of our own mortality.
 
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Epigraph
I am free. High above the mast the moon
Rides clear of her mind and the waves make a refrain
Of this: that the snake has shed its skin upon
The floor. Go on through the darkness. The waves fly back.

-Wallace Stevens, 'Farewell to Florida'
Harper's Creek and roarin' ribber,
Thar, my dear, we'll live forebber;
Den we'll go de Ingin nation,
All I want in dis creation
Is pretty little wife and big plantation.

-Northrup, 'Twelve Years a Slave'
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For Kathy
Yun seul dwèt pas capab' mangé gombo.
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It's not memory you need for telling this story...
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He suddenly feels frightened, but he doesn't know where to aim his fear - and that only makes him more frightened.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060854944, Paperback)

A powerful literary classic from one of contemporary fiction's most acclaimed and important writers, Russell Banks's Continental Drift is a masterful novel of hope lost and gained, and a gripping, indelible story of fragile lives uprooted and transformed by injustice, disappointment, and the seductions and realities of the American dream.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:24 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

After his ill-fated pursuit of the American dream, Bob Dubois finds employment on a fishing boat off the Florida Keys where he becomes involved in a plot to smuggle two Haitians into Florida.

» see all 2 descriptions

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