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Rock Island Line

3.97  ·  Rating Details  ·  258 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Raised in an idyllic Iowa town, young July Montgomery is rocked by the tragic death of his parents. Fleeing to Philadelphia, he fashions a ghostly existence in an underground train station. When a young woman appears to free him from his malaise, they return together to the Iowa heartland, where the novel soars to its heartrending climax. First published to enormous acclai ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Milkweed Editions (first published 1975)
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Patrick Andrews
Oct 10, 2009 Patrick Andrews rated it it was amazing
This novel is the story of Driftless’s July Montgomery before he settled in southwestern Wisconsin at the end of his life. The book starts, and ends, in Iowa City, Iowa, where July was born. When July is ten years old and his parents die in a car accident, he leaves Iowa and everything he knows, making his home in Philadelphia’s Center City’s subway system. Rock Island Line is the story of a boy growing up homeless, running away from his past, and keeping voluntarily disconnected from people, an ...more
Mary Barrow
Jan 15, 2015 Mary Barrow rated it really liked it

The more skill a writer has, the better he/she is able to manipulate an intended audience. This is a given. Creating personality, place, time, and event are all tools to manipulate readers so they can believe the action of characters and the outcome of stories.

David Rhodes is a master of manipulation. His book 'Rock Island Line' carefully pulls the reader into the sad world of his main character, July Montgomery, then moves us with a very believable story of survival and growth. His description
Aug 26, 2009 KarenLee rated it it was amazing
One of my best reads of 2009. Following is the summary, but it doesn't express the excellent writing or emotions engendered by this unlikely story.

Raised in an idyllic Iowa town, young July Montgomery is rocked by the tragic death of his parents. Fleeing to Philadelphia, he fashions a ghostly existence in an underground train station. When a young woman appears to free him from his malaise, they return together to the Iowa heartland, where the novel soars to its heartrending climax.
Shane Schmidt
Rock Island Line is an excellent book. Four and a half stars on my chart. I really did enjoy it. I thought the ending, especially the penultimate chapters, was a bit clumsy. It read like the author felt he had to end the story and concocted a conclusion that didn't seem to flow from the rest of the story. July, our protagonist, has a fairly lucky experience despite misfortune. His luck runs out.

I thought I could read the author channeling his character through the language and tenor of his writ
Robert Pajer
Jan 31, 2011 Robert Pajer rated it really liked it
David Rhodes, one of America’s finest writers, created a memorable character in his exquisitely crafted novel, “Rock Island Line.” With remarkable sensitivity, Rhodes quickly transports the reader through three generations of Montgomery’s until finally focusing upon the tragic life of young July Montgomery. One’s compassions are immediately aroused for the boy, who must deal with the senseless death of both his parents and the fears and childhood perplexities that result.
Rhodes takes readers thr
Aug 24, 2013 Carol rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Having grown up in Rock Island, IL, (across the Mississippi River from Davenport, Iowa) I often road the Rock Island Line back and forth to college, so this title grabbed me! I could picture many of the roads and towns that were mentioned in this book. However, as with many other reviewers, I ordered it from the library after having read Driftless and Jewelweed, by the same author. (I have given those two books four stars.) Rock Island Line is a prequel, written nearly thirty-some years ago. I w ...more
Nov 28, 2009 Janne rated it liked it
Shelves: 09-books
In this book we get the story of July Montgomery, the good, somewhat enigmatic farmer of Driftless. The story begins with the life of his grandparents, in Iowa and ends with July taking off on what is to be a wandering life, until he settles in Word, at the beginning of Driftless. I didn't much care for the beginning; it was only after July entered the story that I felt it come alive. I felt the author had a real, palpable affection for July. The story of his getting along in his little concrete ...more
Feb 28, 2013 Pam rated it really liked it
Loved this book but giving it 4 stars instead of 5 because it could have used a little editing to shorten it a bit and while I did love it, I probably will not read it again as opposed to the book which was its' sequel - "Driftless". I read it in 2009 not knowing it was a sequel and really loved it. Have not reviewed it on Goodreads so I'm going to reread it right now so that I've read it in the correct order and will then review it.
"Rock Island Line" is mostly July Montgomery's rather sad and l
Oct 03, 2013 Terry rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
It was a pure coincidence that I interwove my reading of Canada and Rock Island Line. It happened that my long requested copy of Rock Island Line became available so close to the time I had to read Canada for my book club that I had to pause half way through, and finish it after the book club selection. This juxtaposition undoubtedly contributed to my disappointment with Richard Ford's novel. Both Ford and David Rhodes have created a young male protagonist who is effectively orphaned and flees " ...more
Jun 08, 2016 Megan rated it liked it
Shelves: novels, midwest
Not as good as Rhodes's Jewelweed, this novel has its best parts in the beginning, in the rich and thought-provoking descriptions of the Montgomery family's early life in eastern Iowa. Towards the second half of the book, and especially in the climax and ending, a kind of melodramatic tone takes over; and the plot loses some coherence, becoming more a sequence of events than a purposeful structure. Rhodes's description of Philadelphia life is also not as rich as his description of life in the Io ...more
May 01, 2010 Judy rated it really liked it
The Rock Island Line is written by David Rhodes, who also wrote Driftless. I had liked Driftless so much that I wanted to read more of David Rhodes' books, so I chose Rock Island Line because the two books shared a central character, July Montgomery.

Rock Island Line is a dark, extremely well written novel. The author creates very believable characters and does a good job in capturing the era and the places in which the characters live. The theme of the novel is about sudden, violent loss, and ho
Neil Crocker
Jan 30, 2016 Neil Crocker rated it really liked it
I read Driftless (also by David Rhodes,but written about 30 years after Rock Island Line), then circled back to this one. I should have started here. In Rock Island Line we meet and get to know July Montgomery, and his unbelievably tragic childhood and yound adulthood in Iowa, Philly and back in Iowa. Well written, and compelling, if a little bizarre and occasionally unbelievable. Well worth the journey.
Aug 19, 2009 Steve rated it it was amazing
I read this after seeing a review of Rhodes' new book Driftless. I've also since read the latter. Loved them both. Rock Island Line follows July Montgomery from his grandparents' life in Iowa to a tumultuous period in the east followed by a return to life outside Iowa City. July is enigmatic but soulful. You'll love this character. He reappears in Rhodes new book which is set in a small town in Wisconsin. Told more as a series of character vignettes than Rock Island Line, Driftless (for the drif ...more
John Isaacs
Aug 03, 2014 John Isaacs rated it really liked it
I liked this book. I think David Rhodes is one of our finest writers who creates improbable characters and situations you will never forget. I think, however, that his first book "Last Fair Deal Going Down," is a masterpiece. Not many, even on this site agree with me, but so be it. Rhodes own story is as improbable as the characters he has created.
Janet Gasser
Apr 22, 2014 Janet Gasser rated it liked it
I was anxious to read this book as it is the predecessor to Driftless and Jewelweed, both of which I really enjoyed. However, this story is not so neatly constructed as the others, and it was hard to know where the story was going. I think that David Rhodes has really matured as a writer over the years.
Oct 02, 2008 Amy rated it liked it
A good read--a good mix of harsh realities, introspective musings, and a bit of the mystic. I bought this book because I read a great article about the author, David Rhodes. He published three novels while in his 20s, then was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and never published again until thirty years later, when a small-press publisher got hold of this book, looked him up, and asked him if he'd written anything since. The press (Milkweed Editions) reissued Rock Island Line and released its ...more
Oct 17, 2012 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
I have read this book for a class. I have to give a book review presentation, a critical book review and then a 15 page critical analysis of the book. So, I really needed to pay close attention as I read. I found this very hard because I kept getting swept up into the characters and plot. I literally had to pull myself out of the world Rhodes created to think objectively and critically about the novel. That being said, I am so glad this class introduced me to David Rhodes. He is brilliant and us ...more
Jan 22, 2009 David rated it liked it
This book could easily have earned four stars but for some missteps in the latter half. I'm definitely up for the recent sequel (Driftless), published 30 years after this one. (The author was in an accident a few years after publishing Rock Island Line that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Driftless is his first book in all that time.)

The missteps were mainly in characterization (too baldly "bad" characters, and other characters that just didn't convince) and plotting (a couple of too-han
Nov 26, 2014 Alex rated it liked it
I did enjoy the book, though not until I was about a third of the way in. Would give it 3 and a half if possible. Really loved Driftless and was glad to read about July at a different age.
Along with many others, I too read this after reading Driftless. David Rhodes was in his early twenties when he wrote this, and although I liked Driftless more, I realize that another 30 years of maturity and life's experiences were evident in that book. What incredible depth he conveys about humanity at such a young age! His ability to create characters and make you feel and understand what they are experiencing is such an innate talent. It took 30 years for Rhodes to write after his accident. ...more
Jan 15, 2015 Anna rated it really liked it
David Rhodes is great. I wish I would have read this book before I read Driftless. Not really necessary though. I love the way he reveals the character of July Montgomery. I love the way he writes about what his character is thinking and feeling.
Jane Considine
Apr 18, 2014 Jane Considine rated it it was amazing
This ranks at the top of my list. So good, so very good. If you liked Driftless, read this book. If you haven't read anything by David Rhodes, make it a priority to do so soon.
Sep 17, 2014 Sarah added it
Liked it and read all the other ones.
Jun 25, 2011 Bea rated it really liked it
This one took a while to get into, but once I did I was totally immersed, just like in "Driftless", although I didn't like this one as much. It starts kind of slow and rambling, jumping back and forth to two generations in a small Iowa town, then gets better when it gets to the story of the grandson named July, the third generation and the main character of the book. I really like the author, but this book is one that you want to save for when you have a lot of time, like a vacation. I would hav ...more
Aug 07, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it
This is a powerful portrait of a man whose solitary life is wracked with loss. How he copes and the strength of character he displays are well worth the read. I'd read this before reading Driftless as the story of July Montgomery's life is the glue that weaves texture into that book. Both this and Driftless are good, compelling reads--burt both require time and dedication to finish--I would not call either an"easy read."
Jan 14, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it
The story of July Montgomery, a character that shows up 30 years later in 'Driftless,' it is an amazing tale of vulnerability and resiliency. David Rhodes has a way of succinctly surmising thoughts and feelings that lead me to believe he saw inside my own soul.

I don't know why David Rhodes hasn't been in Oprah's Book Club yet, and I mean that as a compliment.
Feb 24, 2009 Joyce rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A story about loss. I enjoyed the writing, though the narration seems distant from the characters. July, an orphaned runaway at 12, is relatively unscathed by his deep solitude and poverty. Is this likely?

I had the sense that the book was overly workshopped, or heavily edited. I'm curious to read the next book by this author, written 25 years later.
Jan 25, 2010 Sue rated it really liked it
The first part of this book, to me, moved VERY slowly and I almost gave up on it. But a well-read friend recommended it, so I persevered.

Suddenly, at page 356, everything changed and I could not put the book down! The writing was powerful, and I have never read anything quite like this. It leaves me wanting to read the author's newest book Driftless.
Sep 02, 2014 Amy rated it liked it
3.5. The writing is exquisite. I felt like the story meandered, and although I was in for the long haul and extensive introspection from July, the haul felt a little long for me. Could also have been end-of-summer timing making me impatient.
Aug 07, 2011 Betty rated it really liked it
The craft of writing doesn't get any better than this, but be warned, there are comedies and tragedies in literature, and this is no comedy. I will be reading Rhodes' continuation of the story of July Montgomery, written after 30 year hiatus, but I need a balm first, something like Catherine Schine's The New Yorkers. Any suggestions?
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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
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