In “the best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years” (Chicago Tribune), David Rhodes offers a fascinating and entirely unsentimental portrait of a town apparently left behind by the march of time.
Home to a few hundred people yet absent from state maps, Words, Wisconsin, comes richly to life by way of an extraordinary cast of characters. Among them, a middle-aged couple guards the family farm from the mendacious schemes of their milk co-operative; a lifelong paraplegic suddenly regains the use of her legs, only to find herself crippled by fury at her sister and caretaker; a woman of conflicting impulses and pastor of the local Friends church stumbles upon an enlightenment she never expected; a cantankerous retiree discovers a cougar living in his haymow, haunting him like a childhood memory; and a former drifter forever alters the ties that bind a community together. As a whole and independently, “each of these stories glimmers” (New Yorker).
At once intimate and funny, wise and generous, Driftless is an unforgettable story of contemporary life in rural America.
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Praise and Prizes
“Sublime . . . The best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years.”
“Driftless presents a series of portraits that resemble Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology in their vividness and in the cumulative picture they create of village life. . . . Each of these stories glimmers.”
“A wry, generous book . . . Driftless shares a rhythm with the farming community it documents, and its reflective pace is well-suited to characters who are far more comfortable with hard work than words.”
“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. . . . The book moves at a stately 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.”
“Driftless—a symphonic paean to the stillness that can be found in certain areas of the Midwest—was worth the wait . . . The writing is beautiful and surprising throughout. . . . It’s this poetic pointillism that originally made David Rhodes famous.”
“A profound and enduring paean to rural America . . . Radiant in its prose and deep in its quiet understanding of human needs.”
“After thirty years, David Rhodes has delivered, in Driftless, a version of Midwestern pastoral that shoots him to the highest rank of American writers. Together, [Driftless and Rock Island Line] constitute a credible idealization of the American character, free from its political reductions, as worthy of attention as Franklin, Paine, Jefferson, Twain, and Hemingway’s characterizations of the ideal American. . . . [Rhodes has written] one of the most moving descriptions of death in American fiction.”
“David Rhodes picks up the thread of July’s life with deepened powers, writing not in shadow but in light. . . . Rhodes illuminates the wisdom acquired through hard work, the ancient covenant of farming, and the balm of kindness. Encompassing and incisive, comedic and profound, Driftless is a radiant novel of community and courage.”