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Rock Island Line

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  201 ratings  ·  49 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
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
KarenLee
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.
Robert Pajer
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...more
Carol
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
Janne
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
Pam
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...more
Terry
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
Judy
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...more
Steve
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
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
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.
Amy
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
Elizabeth
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
David
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...more
Alison
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
Jane Considine
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.
Sarah
Sep 17, 2014 Sarah added it
Liked it and read all the other ones.
Bea
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
Lynn
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."
Sarah
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.
Joyce
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.
Sue
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.
Amy
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.
Betty
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?
Kriscrowe
Finally, I finished this book. I liked the story, but boy he took a long way to get through it. This book comes before Driftless, so you get a July's background, but now I have to go back and read the beginning of Driftless to see how he ended up there. I think Driftless was written a bit better--more characters to read about.
Sandy
After reading Rhodes' "Driftless" and realizing there was this earlier book that told more about one of its characters, I couldn't resist reading it. I'm glad I did, but I'm also glad I read "Driftless" first. In comparison, "Rock Island Line" is slower paced and less layered, but still an intriguing character study.
Molly
i really liked this. It was very sad and made me cry in multiple spots, but i really liked how he told the entire backstory of July's family up past his grandparents and parents. It was a slow read for the first half, but I still enjoyed being able to pick it up and put it down. The second half I read in about two days.
Jonathan Fretheim
Beautiful tragic.


He thought of how these red and orange winking lights brought him such comfort and were such a jolly expression of good will, yet how awesome and terrible were the gigantic trucks themselves, and he was filled momentarily with warmth for the American people.
Marcleitson Leitson
Already love it....David Rhodes sparse, elegant tales of farm and country folk is a thoughtful joy!
Not what you would call a happy book or light reading, but that's the point. Sometimes the interaction with other people is almost painful as a sandstorm and as inevitable.
Joanne
I give up. I am never going to finish this book. I loved it at first, because the language is so full and it's so rare to read a book set in the rural Midwest, but then the protagonist ran away and the scenes got darker and bleaker and I just don't want to read any more.
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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
More about David Rhodes...
Driftless Jewelweed The Easter House The Last Fair Deal Going Down Accelerating Out of the Great Recession: How to Win in a Slow-Growth Economy

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