Book review: Rhodes’ ‘Driftless’ explores human condition in rural western Wisconsin

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

From the David Rhodes website:

“As a young man, David Rhodes worked in fields, hospitals, and factories across Iowa, nurturing his love of reading along the way. After receiving an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1971, he published three novels in rapid succession: ‘The Last Fair Deal Going Down’ (Atlantic/Little, Brown, 1972), ‘The Easter House’ (Harper & Row, 1974), and ‘Rock Island Line’ (Harper & Row, 1975). A motorcycle accident in 1976 left him paralyzed from the chest down, which brought a temporary halt (30 years) to his publishing career. In 2008, he returned to publication with ‘Driftless,’ which has been heralded as a critical success and the ‘best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years’ (Chicago Tribune). Rhodes lives with his wife, Edna, in rural Wisconsin (Wonewoc).”

“Driftless” is logically enough set in our Driftless region of Wisconsin. As such, you may recognize much of the setting even with fictitious names. With observations that could have come from the County Line’s Backtalk, Rhodes writes, “… memorializing a once-functioning cheese factory, school, post office, dry goods store, lumber yard, mill, grocery, furniture store, dressmaker, garage, wagon factory, implement dealer and gas station. The town stood in its own shadow of better times when families depended on agriculture for their livelihood, work for exercise, common sense for intelligence, on each other for entertainment, on faith for health …. ”

The plot of “Driftless” has many threads: the plight of farmers, adjustment to the Amish presence, human relationships, a good Samaritan, being an invalid, religion. When July Montgomery finally senses that his wanderlust has run its course, he finds himself in Words, Wisconsin, for no apparent reason. “Driftless” is about his life near a community as described above. But really it is about the people and the lives they live there.

Rhodes is a skilled writer. Among other things, he can capture large ideas in a few well-chosen words. “… old people were routinely discarded into nursing homes to die of institutional cleanliness.” While in some cases you might debate the cleanliness statement, Rhodes’ point of going from your home to a hard-surfaced, sanitized nursing home is clearly captured with “institutional cleanliness.” Rhodes’ character, Violet, speaks harshly, and “discarded” is hardly the appropriate word for sucha difficult decision, but reading the book will put the quotation in proper perspective.

Rhodes writes of a toilet that flushes with “diminished enthusiasm,” a band that has a “narrowly construed sense of rhythm” and a youth group “that has two members if everyone shows up.” “Driftless” is a book that explores the human condition of rural western Wisconsin, in 2008, as only an accomplished author can do.

Rhodes’ “Driftless” is available through your public library.

Comments are closed.

  • Letter to the editor: Urge Whitestown Town Board to deny variance for 5G tower

    August 15th, 2019
    by

    I would like to encourage residents of Whitestown Township to write the town board to deny Bug Tussel a variance on the tower to be built on Dutch Hollow Road.


    Letter to the editor: Law curbs local control over cell-tower siting

    August 15th, 2019
    by

    Concerned about Bug Tussel cell towers (for wireless internet)? Depending on authorities and zoning laws of town or village to protect you?


    Letter to the editor: Disaster recovery should never become political

    August 7th, 2019
    by

    After torrential rains and disastrous flooding devastated communities along the Elroy-Sparta and 400 bike trails, community leaders and state representatives rallied together to find solutions.


    Your right to know: Lawsuit put end to abusive practice

    July 11th, 2019
    by

    Wisconsin’s open records law applies to all records requests, big or small.


    Editorial cartoon

    July 11th, 2019
    by

    […]


  • Letter to the editor: Much prayer given for Ontario’s special day

    July 11th, 2019
    by

    Have you ever paused … perhaps I use a more emphatic word … STOPPED to believe something?


    Letter to the editor: 5G towers emit microwaves

    July 11th, 2019
    by

    There is something new on the horizon. AT&T joined forces with Bug Tussle to bring the world-touted 5G to our doors.


    Letter to the editor: Take time to help children in detention centers

    July 4th, 2019
    by

    Concentration camps. I’m sure you’ve heard these words in the news lately. They’ve been around since medieval times and are still being used today.


    Letter to the editor: Thanks for ‘Backtalk’ comments regarding Ruth Beaver Kramer

    July 4th, 2019
    by

    On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank you for the lovely tribute to my mother, Ruth Beaver Kramer.


    Letter to the editor: Unexpected … ‘Carry on, soldier’

    July 4th, 2019
    by

    Through our lives, we face many things. No one knows what that could bring. Challenges we can accept.


    Letter to the editor: Mainstream media is not systematically publishing ‘fake news’

    July 4th, 2019
    by

    A friend recently showed me a letter sent by the Republican National Committee. Headed “2019 Congressional District Census,” it is signed by Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the RNC.


  • Facebook

  • [Advertisement.]
  • Archives