Novelist David Rhodes Returns With 'Driftless'
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In the mid-1970s, writer David Rhodes published three acclaimed novels in quick succession ending with "Rock Island Line." He didn't publish again for three decades. Rhodes was sidelined by a motorcycle accident, paralyzed from the chest down. After that long hiatus, David Rhodes has returned to the book world with "Driftless," a new novel. And Alan Cheuse has this review.
ALAN CHEUSE: "Driftless" recreates the human condition as a condition of Wisconsin life, Words, Wisconsin to be specific, an imaginary hamlet off the map in the southwestern portion of Wisconsin, the regions known in geological terms as the driftless zone. That's because the retreating glaciers at the end of the Ice Age somehow spared the region from layers of debris.
Comprised of a large number of short chapters, the novel opens with a prologue reminiscent of Steinbeck's beautiful tribute to the Salinas Valley in the opening of "East of Eden" with a little touch of Michener's prologue to his novel "Hawaii." There's a brief homage to the earliest settlers in the region, and then it focuses on the here and now. The novel has a number of plots driving it. There's a farm couple who discovers a corruption scheme at the milk cooperative. A local woman finds life at a dog fight. A country singer tries to find the perfect setting for a new song. And a widowed farmer sloughs off off his decade-long mourning for his late wife and falls deeply in love with a neighbor.
Rhodes spices up all of this with car chases and a visiting cougar and a traditional blizzard and a beautiful young spinster minister's vision of God in the middle of a marsh. But beyond all this action, the book moves at a stately, though much more than glacial pace, as it offers deep philosophy and meditative asides about life in Words, Wisconsin, in the driftless zone, which is to say, about life on earth.
SIEGEL: The new novel is "Driftless" by David Rhodes. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse, and Alan has a new novel of his own, it's called "To Catch the Lightning."
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