Continental Drift Paperback – 24 Jun 1996
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"A great American novel...a lesson in history...It is the most convincing portrait I know of contemporary America."--James Atlas, "The Atlantic"Russell Banks...explores the themes of good and evil, fate and freedom, success and failure, love and sex, and racism and poverty through alternating chapters focusing on dual protagonists: Bob Dubois, 30, who forsakes his deadend job as an oil-burner repairman in New Hampshire to begin a new life in Florida, and Vanise Dorinsville, a young, illiterate Haitian mother who seeks refuge from poverty by fleeing to America...Original in conception, gripping in execution."--"Newsday"Grandeur...Tremendously ambitious...A powerful, disturbing study in moral 'drift', confusion, and uncertainty."--"San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle"An important novel because of the precise manner in which it reflects the spiritual yearning and materialistic frenzy of our contemporary life...Always, Banks writes with tremendous knowledge, conviction, and authenticity."--"Chicago Tribune --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Russell Banks is one of America's most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I found all the characters completely believable, and was especially impressed by the depiction of Haitian life. It is a book that deals with the issues of racism, immigration, capitalism, and individual responsibility in an intelligent, non-polemical way. This is far from a preachy book, it is storytelling at it's best. I'd recommend this Book, and indeed this writer to anyone who enjoys a good read.
Prompt,easy access,what more could anyone ask.
The novel is set in the mid-80s and consists of two stories. One traces the lives of a young white American and his family from New Hampshire who migrate to Florida in search of a better life and end up living in trailer park territory amongst a bunch of no-hopers, criminal and low lifes.
The other recounts the life of a young black woman from Haiti and her harrowing attempts to get to Florida and escape the poverty and misery of her homeland.
After 300 pages, the two characters' paths cross - finally and fatefully - in a heartbreaking climax.
The author does a good job of presenting the American and describing his rages and frustrations as he tries to cope with his chaotic life.
However, he is not so successful with his presentation of Haitians, Jamaicans and other Caribbean types. Nor can he resist the temptation to indulge in clichéd images and describe voodoo-type black magic ceremonies with chickens and goats having their throats cut and people dancing themselves into trances.
This is definitely worth reading, particularly if you know Florida which is almost like a separate part of the United States, to some extent, with its mixture of American, Latin and Caribbean cultures.
One final point. This book is really packaged for the modern age. The novel is followed by an appendix containing lengthy material about the author, extracts from his diary, photos of the original manuscript with corrections, and other items. Smart marketing indeed.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Bob Dubois, is a powerful and well developed protagonist; a blue-collar worker in snowy New Hampshire who tries to escape the hopelessness of his dead-end existence and fizzling marriage by traveling south to Florida. But Bob loses control of his situation, and his predestined path is dictated by forces outside of his control, just as plate tectonics dictates the drift of our wayward continents.
Dubois is a beautifully written character. He's a moral man who tries to do the right thing, and in the end it's his morality that brings the tragedy to its conclusion. On the other side of this collision course are two Hatian immigrants with which Bob shares everything and nothing. Banks once again shows his knowledge of Caribbean cultures - a reoccurring theme in his novels.
Love, sex, desperation, hope, good vs. evil, racism, free-will versus destiny, these are all elements interwoven into a tightly written story. An excellent novel.
I have just reviewed the classic 1980's Tom Wolfe novel THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, which is a hilariously scathing social commentary of The Greed Decade that follows four separate tracks, one for each protagonist, until they all come together in the second half of the book. CONTINENTAL DRIFT follows just two tracks; however, it is a much more difficult read that requires a lot more patience. It is not the compulsive page-turner that BONFIRE is. One reason is the decidedly dark tone of Banks' story; it is a lament, not a satire. Also, it is written in two distinctly different styles: it alternates between standard modern American prose, when following Bob's life, and an English-language version of Haitian prose which is rich with that island nation's odd mixture of French-derived Catholicism and African-originated voodoo. This jarring contrast in tones is at first puzzling on the initial read; however, I found that over time I gradually got used to it. As I said, this is a story that requires a lot of patience, and goes through its plot revelations and permutations slowly. There is lots of background and exposition, particularly on the Haitian side of things, showing that Banks obviously has fully researched, studied and understands the Haitian culture. However, for those readers who do not particularly care for this area of knowledge, the book will really drag, perhaps past the point of patience. At over 435 pages, this book is not a quick read by any means.
I first came across CONTINENTAL DRIFT back in college; it was originally assigned to us as part of the reading list in an American Studies class I took in 1988, one that was taught by a 40-something ex-hippy-ish professor who made the class very interesting. Our theme for the semester was The Myth of Rebirth in American Culture. Our reading list included Henry David Thoreau's WALDEN, James Dickey's DELIVERANCE, Abraham Cahan's YEKL...and thhis book. By the end of the semester, we had run out of time to cover CONTINENTAL DRIFT; however, my professor had strongly urged us to read this book on our own time. Well, five years later, in 1993, I finally did!
CONTINENTAL DRIFT, as with any good work of art, is open to many different interpretations. I take it pretty much as the exposure of 'The American Dream' as one that is a complete myth and fantasy for most people. It is the Golden Ring which is out of reach for most of us, even if we do work hard. That's not to say that it is completely unattainable for anyone; certainly there have been many rags-to-riches success stories in the good ol' US of A. However, let's face facts: just about everyobdy growing up in this country of ours has been promised a bill of goods at some point in our lives, that they would make out better than their parents' generations, etc. etc., blah, blah, blah---and for most of us, now struggling with massive, unprecedented credit card debt which which *most* of our parents never had to deal, this bill of goods has come up unsatisfyingly short in reality. This is what I personally take as the crux of this novel. Your interpretation may vary.
I like the fact that, right up front, we know that the story covers the last year-and-a-half of Bob DuBois' life. We know for certain that he will die, when he will die, and where he will die (On a rain-soaked night in Miami). The adventure is to find out on he came to go from Point A to Point B. Overall, I think this book is successful because now, after almost a dozen years since I had read it, I still remember most of what happens; it obviously made a big impression on me. Just a warning: it is not for the faint-of-heart, and is so graphic in certain scenes that I doubt if it will ever be adapted to the big screen (as Russell Banks' later works AFFLICTION and THE SWEET HEREAFTER have been). But for now, you can just read it and make up your own mind as to whether or not you liked it, and as to what it all means for you.
RECOMMENDED, AGES 18 & UP