Driftless by David Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This novel is really a collection of short stories about a group of people living in a rural Wisconsin town called "Words". One of the major characters, and to me, one of the most likeable, is a farmer named July Montgomery who lives a lonely life after tragedy took his wife from him, but he fills that gap by becoming something of a touchstone to his neighbors. Apparently, this character has appeared in the author's previous books, written decades ago, quite acclaimed and, I'm afraid I haven't read those.
The backdrop of this book is a dying town, it is the Wisconsin weather--sulky summer heat or bitter blizzards, it is the idea of nature awakening, ready to take back the land from the inhabitants, a lone mountain lion prowling the area. The story begins slowly enough, a sighting of the mountain lion, the humdrum existances of a woman pastor, spinster sisters living as caregiver and cripple, married farmers who are living stale on their dairy farm, an alcoholic singer yearning for someone to notice her music.
In fact, the book began so slowly that I couldn't stop yawning. I had that weird feeling I sometimes get when watching a very well done independant film, kind of bored but also still wondering where these characters are going to end up. The dialogue got a bit stilted and clunky at times, the prose could overflow excessively in describing a moment, fervantly hammering at you that a character was FEELING something and we all had to FEEL it with them. At moments like those I felt as if someone was talking louder and louder in my face in an effort to get me to understand their foreign tongue.
The characters, however, unfolded quite nicely, blossoming with their own stories that were quite far-fetched at times, stretching all sorts of believability and bringing a sense of magic and miracle to a dusty old piece of Americana. Some characters experience magical solutions to their problems, fall into a nest of new ones, and other characters suffer tragedy or misfortune. There are clashes with big corporations, militia groups, there are dogfights, miracles, children in danger, family secrets, all events that intertwine the characters around each other, creating a fraying rope to dangle in the center of Words, Wisconsin.
I did thoroughly enjoy this novel by the end of it and was glad that I was patient enough to stick with it. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to cut their teeth in it.
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