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3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  2,186 ratings  ·  538 reviews
David Rhodes's long-awaited new novel turns an unblinking eye on an array of eccentric characters and situations. The setting is Words, Wisconsin, an anonymous town of only a few hundred people. But under its sleepy surface, life rages. Cora and Graham guard their dairy farm, and family, from the wicked schemes of their milk co-op. Lifelong paraplegic Olivia suddenly start ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Milkweed Editions
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Oct 18, 2009 John rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to John by: Sally
Saw David Rhoades at the Wisconsin Book Festival. He said a several of wonderful things that helped my understanding of the book.

First the title is obviously about the interesting area of Wisconsin (& other states) where I live. But it is also about July finally stopping his drifting from the previous books and settling in Words. That sure makes me want to read "Rock Island Line".

Second "Words" is his comment on the post modern theory that fiction is about words and not the narrative. Reader
I was helping a woman in her 70's at the library figure out the next book her book club should read. She was making me laugh because she had read almost everything out there, and had some sort of critical one-liner for almost every popular book. Before she left, she told me, "Read Driftless by David Rhodes. You won't regret it, it's a gem." I believed her, and I agree with her.
The story behind the story is interesting; the author wrote critically acclaimed fiction in the 70's, winning many ficti
What is to be done when, in rural Wisconsin, a young farm family runs afoul of a corrupt and dangerous agribusiness corporation? Worry, too, about that cougar prowling the nearby farms, and the quirky woman preacher at the Quaker church having mystical visions in the woods, and the militia men skulking about the countryside with their machine guns.

Early on I fell in love with Driftless but eventually traded that for mere fondness. It was one of those rare first acquaintances with an author that
I really, really, really wanted to like this book. Based on the summary, this by all means could have been my favorite book. Rising against agribusiness, esoteric theological musings, the Driftless Area? That's pretty much my life.

The characters were believable (for the most part), but the dialogue was not. The descriptive passages did nothing to bring the geography and the intricate nature of the coulees and ridges of southwest Wisconsin to life. The author suffers a tendency to over-describe p
The book tells the story of a handful of persons living in a small town in Wisconsin. Farmers, a musician, an invalid, a protestant pastor, a mechanic - their lives, their pasts and future are woven together as only the shared lives of a small community can be. There's no glorification of Midwest virtue here. Virtue definitely exists in small gestures of kindness and in subtle acts of daily courage, but it is not glorified. But neither is this a book intent on showing us the seedy sides of human ...more
I'm reading this book for my senior seminar in english studies and, in my (almost) professional opinion: HOLY CRAP. It's nothing short of amazing. The characters are real and easy to relate to. The fictional town of Words, Wisconsin is so like the town I grew up in, in the same state. Rhodes has the most beautiful way with words. I can't even properly describe this novel to you, you just have to read it.
Patrick Andrews
David Rhodes named his book, Driftless, after the Driftless Area, which comprises Southwestern Wisconsin, Northwestern Illinois, Northeastern Iowa, and Southeastern Minnesota, and is bereft of sediment or glacial drift left behind as the last ice age’s glaciers receded into Canada. And both the novel’s topography and that of its characters reflect this.

The book portrays the forgotten, driftless (and fictitious) town of Words, Wisconsin, which has been left behind by all of the technological and
4 1/2 stars, really. In the author interview at the back of this edition, Rhodes explains how the geography of place defines the characters, who they are, what they do, and what they believe. I live not too far from where this novel takes place, and though I feel I'd make lots of different choices from the ones his characters make, their choices are true. This is bible belt country, but this region also harbors many skeptics, and Rhodes invites both, all, views of faith -- in God, god, and human ...more
Will read. Read first story and enjoyed it. Fiction has failed me or I have failed it. Regardless, I am taking a hiatus from fiction (with the possible exception of 100 Years of Solitude).

---Update 3/2014


I have beloved, trusted friends who could not finish and those who loved this book. I am firmly in the latter. I am so glad that I returned to it and started anew. Brilliantly and beautifully written. It makes me pine for this area of Wisconsin that I have visited (to stay with dear f
Bravo to David Rhodes! It has been a long time since I so thoroughly enjoyed a novel. Driftless is set in the unglaciated ("driftless") area of southwestern Wisconsin. Rhodes lives in rural Wisconsin and is pitch perfect in how he captures the sense of place and the types of characters who inhabit rural Wisconsin. I felt like I knew these people -- they are for the most part decent, hard working folk who don't make too many demands on others and want to live their lives in peace. Most of the mai ...more
3/7/2011 3:25 PM


Driftless is Rhodes' first published novel in 30 years. He was paralyzed from the chest down in a motorcycle accident. He was able to write during this period but the works he submitted were not published. Rhodes and his wife live in Wonewoc, Juneau County, Wisconsin. The county's population is 783.

Driftless is an area in southwest Wisconsin not touched by Pleistocene era glaciers. Fictional Thistlewaite County covers the Driftless area and also
David Clark
The strength of this novel is in the author's development of a character menagerie. With compact and sparse prose Rhodes not only describes these folks but puts you inside their heads. I grew up close to the area Rhodes describes and his descriptions of these rural people, particularly their socially inept conversations, created vivid and specific images. While the plot lacks the drive and speed of a Conroy or Rowling best-seller, the patient reader is rewarded for staying the course.

As a write
Iowa City Public Library
When The Color Purple came out in 1982, a reviewer noted how uncommon it was for a characters in a book to get happier as the story went on. Stories need conflict, and this usually involves characters suffering. This year’s All Iowa Reads selection, Driftless, is another book where, people’s lives improve, often in surprising ways, like the very religious invalid who finds herself on a date with a hoodlum at a dogfight.

Rhodes gets so much right, starting with these characters, who change and gro
Jerry Windley-Daoust
There are wonderful moments here...the couple searching for their kids in the blizzard; the pastor confronting the casino owner; the pastor (again) standing in the creek. I loved that Rhodes addresses the spiritual and religious dimension of his characters' lives.

The question this book raised for me was: When does quirk stop making a book interesting and start becoming a distraction? It is probably easier to write quirkier characters than to write "ordinary" characters well.

The sudden plot twist
Driftless, by David Rhodes is an interesting collection of characters struggling with a variety of problems: a whistleblowing stand against a corrupt big business, a marriage in trouble, a man's inability to move beyond grief, a musician's passion to create, a co-dependency of two sisters, a parolee needing stability, an aging couple needing house repairs, a young pastor looking for answers. Add to this a cougar where it shouldn't be, ominous militia meeting in the woods, a frightening blizzard, ...more
Morgan Egge kiedrowski
The writing is absolutely beautiful. It's a book that is meant to be read slowly in order to truly appreciate the beauty in the author's descriptions of not just the driftless area of Wisconsin but the people that call it home. I highly recommend it.
The author of this book had a motorcycle accident in the early '70's, and thirty years went by between his earlier published works and this one. David Rhodes has crafted a beautifully told tale of the fictitious small town of Words in northwestern Wisconsin. Words is located in the "driftless" region of the state, which was untouched by the glaciers during the Ice Age, capable of causing large areas of land to drift up, down, or sideways. Words has stayed pretty much the same over the years, and ...more
Driftless was written by a lover of words--it's chock full of rich and insightful characterizations of people and their surroundings, lending a warmth and depth to people who at first glimpse might seem plain and stoic. This is my kind of wordiness.

Some situations in the book strain credulity just a bit, almost entering the realm of magical realism. I'm slightly less enthusiastic about these aspects of the book, but I'm willing to leave my reality at the door for the sake of a good story.

Some st
Cee Martinez
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 r ...more
So many subplots with no real focus and a host of characters who all seemed to run together in a disjointed story sometimes made the reading quite painful. I liked some of the characters, but I really struggled with Winnie, the pastor of the local church. Her immaturity and behavior belied that of someone reaching out to others and there were many times I thought "this girl needs some serious counseling." When asked what gave her the right to judge, her response that Jesus gave her the right, pr ...more
This is a story of a man who, at the beginning of the novel, is profoundly lonely: "His life had grown too thin, and he was nearing the end of himself. He was living but didn't feel alive. He knew no one from the inside--feeling the center of their life--and no one knew him." Ultimately, however, the main theme of the novel is how we as human beings are interdependent, how community runs through our very souls, defining what it means to be human. The writing it wonderful and the characters are b ...more
Iowa City Public Library
I keep my eyes open for books set in the midwest which is why I was drawn to the most recent winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, Driftless by David Rhodes. I got more than I was looking for. First of all, a very intriguing author story. David Rhodes is a 1971 UI Writers Workshop grad. He published three books between 1972 and 1975. In 1977 he was injured in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. This is his first book published in thirty years.

And, then, th
marcus miller
If you want to understand the make up of a small, dying, mid-western town this wouldn't be a bad place to start. In the prologue Rhodes writes that it took him ten years to write this book because it took him that long to get to know some of his characters. And that is sort of the way it is in a small town where many of the most interesting folks are the hardest to get to know, or at least know well.
This isn't a book you want to hurry through and in that way the pace of the book is a bit like a
Wow. No, really.

I was surprised how easily the characters in this book earned my love and respect. I usually need time to bond with characters, choosing long-running series to give me time to let each person become part of me. Driftless, a collection of short vignettes concerning people living in or near Words, Wisconsin, is so powerfully written that I needed almost no time at all before wanting to cheer these people on toward the growth and change they so desperately need.

Each character's cri
Rhodes has created characters you grow to love because although they seem idiosyncratic at first, you begin to realize how much all of us have in common, how much these old-fashioned, self-reliant, naive rural people are like anyone else, no matter how rich, urban or sophisticated. The several story lines intertwine and pick up the pace pretty quickly with humor, suspense and tragedy.

This book may have special appeal for me since I know this part of Wisconsin well, but I also think it has unive
I truly enjoyed this book. The story is written by a Wisconsin native and takes place in Words, Wisconsin, a town too small to be included on a map. David Rhodes does a great job of describing the characters in this book and I could relate in some way to each of them. They remind me of people I have met throughout my life.
Each character is introduced in the beginning of the book and then their lives are intertwined through the remainder of the book. The end result is a story about a community t
Nanette Bulebosh
Lyrical, insightful and very moving novel from an under-appreciated Wisconsin writer. After some initial literary successes with his earlier novels, Rhodes stopped writing 20 something years ago after a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed. When a new fan of his books contacted him to ask why he stopped writing, he took another look at the novel he'd been working on, and Driftless is the result. The story place in a small, western Wisconsin agricultural community. The characters come across, f ...more
Fred Forbes
I tend to read fairly quickly. (So many books, so little time ...) But every now and then one comes along that I slow down just to enjoy the descriptive power of the writing. This is one of those books. I lived in Wisconsin for 8 years back in the 70's and remember some mean winter nights but have never seen them described as powerfully as Rhodes does in this book. It may be a bit too literary for some since it meanders a bit and I was a bit concerned at the lack of resolution of some of the sto ...more
Paul Cockeram
While this book claims to be a collection of interlinked short stores, it turns out to be more complicated than that. “Driftless” is closer to a novel with short chapters that rotate among several main characters’ points of view. Let’s say that a short story must be self-contained, must satisfy readers by itself as a narrative with resolution, and must present characters whose lives grow and change as a consequence of that narrative. By that standard, many of these chapters could reasonably be p ...more
Bill Pritchard
Just finished "Driftless" by David Rhodes. Thank you to Catherine Kolkmeier for loaning me this book and encouraging me to read it. This gentle, quiet book does a remarkable job of capturing the voice of the quiet hard working people who work the land and milk the cows across our state - specifically those from our Southwestern corner of the state. The author burst onto the literary scene some 30 years ago after publishing three critically acclaimed books in quick succession. He was then involv ...more
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Plot or Not? 5 64 Mar 11, 2014 09:25AM  
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As a young man, David Rhodes worked in fields, hospitals, and factories across Iowa. After receiving an MFA in Writing from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1971, he published three acclaimed novels: The Last Fair Deal Going Down (1972), The Easter House (1974), and Rock Island Line (1975). In 1976, a motorcycle accident left him partially paralyzed. In 2008, Rhodes returned to the lite
More about David Rhodes...
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“We are all connected in ways we cannot even begin to fathom. Our lives unfold through each other and within each other. What one suffers, we all feel. What one does changes others forever.” 18 likes
“We are not separate, and I want you to know that. We are all part of one thing, and nothing good has ever passed or ever can pass away. There is no way out, but there is a way in, and when one person feels lonely like a ghost it touches us all.” 6 likes
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