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David Rhodes


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (12/8/2009)
Hardcover (9/1/2008)
MP3 CD (1/1/2010)
Compact Disc (1/1/2010)
Audio Cassette (1/1/2010)

Summer '10 Reading Group List

“After a 30-year hiatus following a motorcycle accident, David Rhodes has returned with a beautiful masterpiece. July Montgomery, the hero of Rhodes' Rock Island Line, first published in 1975, returns in a story filled with family secrets and more than one miracle. A great choice for your next book group!”
— Russell Villars, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM
View the List


When David Rhodes's first three novels were published in the mid-seventies, he was acclaimed as "one of the best eyes in recent fiction" (John Gardner), and compared favorably to Sherwood Anderson. In 1976, a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, and unpublished for the subsequent three decades.

Driftless heralds a triumphant return to the Midwestern landscape Rhodes knows so well, offering a fascinating and entirely unsentimental portrait of a town apparently left behind by the march of time. At once intimate and funny, wise and generous, Driftless is an unforgettable story of contemporary life in rural America.

The few hundred souls who inhabit Words, Wisconsin, are an extraordinary cast of characters. The middle-aged couple who zealously guards their farm from a scheming milk cooperative. The lifelong invalid, crippled by conflicting emotions about her sister. A cantankerous retiree, haunted by childhood memories after discovering a cougar in his haymow. The former drifter who forever alters the ties that bind a community. In his first novel in 30 years, David Rhodes offers a vivid and unforgettable look at how each life affects many.

Praise For Driftless

2010 All Iowa Reads Selection

Now, after what had to have been years of effort beyond the usual struggle of trying to make a good novel, we get [Rhodes’s] fourth, and, I have to shout it out, finest book yet. Driftless is the best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years.”
Chicago Tribune

A profound and enduring paean to rural America. Radiant in its prose and deep in its quiet understanding of human needs.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Driftless is a fast-moving story about small town life with characters that seem to have walked off the pages of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology.’”
Wall Street Journal

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.”
NPR, All Things Considered”

Few books have the power to transport the way Driftless does, and it’s Rhodes’ eye for detail that we have to thank for it.”
Time Out Chicago

A wry and 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.”
Christian Science Monitor, Best Novels of 2008

A symphonic paean to the stillness that can be found in certain areas of the Midwest, The writing in Driftless is beautiful and surprising throughout, [and] it’s this poetic pointillism that originally made Rhodes famous.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

[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.”
New Yorker

Rhodes consciously avoids drama to deliver a portrait of a real rural America as singular, beautiful and foreign as anywhere else.”
Philadelphia City Paper

Rhodes shows he still knows how to keep readers riveted. As affecting as it is pleasantly overstuffed.”
Publishers Weekly

Encompassing and incisive, comedic and profound, Driftless is a radiant novel of community and courage.”
Booklist, 2008 Editor’s Choice, starred review

Though Driftless is a deeply contemporary talewhat it has to say about the way corporations treat small farmers is, for example, quite pressingit also has the architectural complexity of the great 19th-century novels, but without the gimcrackery too often required to hold their stories together. It partakes as much of the moral universe of Magnolia as of Middlemarch. And it earns comparison to both.”
Books & Culture

Unique, funny, absorbing, at times frightening. A novel crafted by a real writer.”
California Literary Review, Best Books of 2008

Milkweed Editions, 9781571310682, 429pp.

Publication Date: May 5, 2009

About the Author

David Rhodes grew up near Des Moines and graduated from Marlboro College in Vermont. After receiving an MFA in Writing from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1971, he published three novels in rapid succession to acclaim: The Last Fair Deal Going Down, The Easter House, and Rock Island Line. Thirty years later, Milkweed reissued these and published his newest novel, Driftless . He currently lives with his wife Edna in Wisconsin, and his next book, Jewelweed will be published in May 2013.

Book Videos

Conversation Starters from

The prologue describes the geography of the region in which Driftless takes place, and the novel’s title is taken from the name of the area. How does the Driftless Region, which Rhodes describes as “singularly unrefined . . . in its hilly, primitive form,” influence the events of the book?

Words, Wisconsin, is a tiny town, not even located on maps of the region. How important is the rural setting of Driftless? How would the book be different if it were set in a city, or even in nearby Grange?

In many ways, Driftless seems to be a novel of oppositions—between the dairy corporation and the farmers, the Amish and the other residents, or a caregiver and a caretaker. What are some of the other oppositions in the book?

When July first arrives on the outskirts of Words, he observes that “the dead forever change the living.” How does this assertion relate to July’s experience? Is a statement like this more true in a small town like Words?

During Winnie’s epiphany, she realizes that “boundaries did not exist. Where she left off and something else began could not be established.” Is this notion and/or experience of unity displayed elsewhere in the book?

Early in the book, Winnie is told that “religion is irrelevant to the modern world.” Do you agree? In this book, is religion a source for wisdom, naïveté, or a combination of the two?

Both Winnie and Gail are described as being “chosen”—Winnie through her epiphany; Gail because of the song she writes. What does the parallel between these two characters tell you about them? Are there other characters who are similarly paired?

Driftless is a collection of stories from many different characters. Do you think any one of the characters is particularly important or central? What is the effect of having many speakers narrate the story?

Grahm is forced to trust Cora’s instincts when they lose their children in the snowstorm. In what way does that decision influence the rest of their story? Are there other characters who must trust in something beyond their control?

Words is described as a town “attached more firmly to the past than to the present.” Some of the inhabitants of Words do seem firmly rooted in their history, but many of them also seem to be escaping their past. What role does the past play in Driftless?