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Driftless by David Rhodes
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Wow. No, really.

I was surprised how easily the characters in this book earned my love and respect. I usually need time to bond with characters, choosing long-running series to give me time to let each person become part of me. Driftless, a collection of short vignettes concerning people living in or near Words, Wisconsin, is so powerfully written that I needed almost no time at all before wanting to cheer these people on toward the growth and change they so desperately need.

Each character's crisis and journey is complex but approachable. The literary equivalent of Jason Robert Brown songs, the nature of each person's problem isn't simplified to fit some generic template of a person to make it easier to identify with. I did see myself in these characters, but did so without ceasing to see the character either. I loved that.

I look forward to reading this again in ten years, to see how the older me looks at these lives. ( )
  drhapgood | Jul 27, 2014 |
I loved this book but I'm not sure I can say why. It's small chapters of snippets of the lives of people in a rural community in Wisconsin. They seem to become connected through a former drifter and gentle soul named July who has been farming in the community for twenty some years. The lives of all the characters seem catalyzed by July to become more...linked together to become greater than standing so alone. Beautiful writing full of ideas. Keep to reread someday. Many layers missed and to be discovered ( )
  KAzevedo | Jan 1, 2014 |
I saw David Rhodes read from his new book, Jewelweed, at the Iowa City Book Festival, and I loved the excerpt so much that I bought Jewelweed and Driftless, both of which are set in Words, Wisconsin. Rhodes weaves together the stories of many of the residents of Words, and each of their stories is compelling. Alone, they are well-crafted snapshots of life in rural Wisconsin - a bass player at a bar, a minister tending her flock, a farmer milking his cows. But together, they are the rhythms of life, the struggles and triumphs, the quarrels and the communions, the quiet moments and the climaxes. Rhodes said that the book took years to write, and some of the characters took on a life of their own. I'm glad that he had the patience to follow them where they took him.

Rhodes is also patient enough to paint a picture of rural Wisconsin. His words truly create Words. There are passages like this around every corner:

"Sometimes in the theater of winter, a day will appear with such spectacular mildness that it seems the season can almost be forgiven for all its inappropriate hostility, inconveniences, and even physical assaults. With a balmy sky overhead, melting snow underfoot, and the sounds of creeks running, the bargain made with contrasts doesn't look so bad: to feel warm, one must remember cold; to experience joy, one must have known sorrow." (p. 264).

I highly recommend this one and can't wait to visit Words again. ( )
  porch_reader | Oct 24, 2013 |
There are too many words in this book; too many weird characters; too many unbelievable situations; too many confrontations; too many characters; not enough plot. I admit I was pulled into the first few chapters, but soon found myself skipping paragraphs of writing that seemed as if the author was speaking his philosophy of life through the words of some character. The character of Olivia was totally unbelievable: a woman in a wheelchair who rarely leaves the house goes and loses the bank account at a casino, finds a kind of "soul mate" in a young parolee, attends a dog fight and adopts a fight dog, drinks some unknown potion and is "cured". However, I will admit that I felt that the relationship between Olivia and her sister Violet was at times right on target. I admit there were a few other places in the book that I felt were well done; just not enough of them.

One thing I really didn't understand was the constant confrontational tone between characters: husbands and wives, neighbors, relatives, minister and others. I couldn't understand the underlying tone of mistrust in everyone; I experienced the opposite growing up in rural Missouri. People might not be effusive communicators, but they did show a sense of respect and put on a pleasant fact to one another.

In short, I was very disappointed in this novel. I had read a review and thought it sounded very interesting. I think I was the one that recommended it to my book club (we did select it for a future read)thinking that it would provide lots of discussion. Guess, we'll see.

If you do appreciate well written books set in rural "backwater" locations, check out Winter's Bone: A Novelby Daniel Woodrell. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 17, 2013 |
Not all Wisconsin books resonate with me, but this one did. Story held my interest and descriptors made me want to spend some time in the driftless areas of WI. ( )
  JeanetteSkwor | Aug 28, 2011 |
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Prologue:  In southwestern Wisconsin there is an area roughly one hundred and sixty miles long and seventy miles wide with unique features.
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Words, Wisconsin, an anonymous town of only a few hundred people. But under its sleepy surface, life rages. Cora and Graham 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. And July Montgomery, both private and gregarious, instigates a series of events that threatens the town's solitude and doggedly suspicious ways.… (more)

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