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Continental Drift

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  2,228 ratings  ·  230 reviews

A powerful literary classic from one of contemporary fiction's most acclaimed and important writers, Russell Banks's Continental Drift is a masterful novel of hope lost and gained, and a gripping, indelible story of fragile lives uprooted and transformed by injustice, disappointment, and the seductions and realities of the American dream.

Paperback, 431 pages
Published March 13th 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 1985)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Maciek
It’s not memory you need for telling this story, writes Russel Banks in the italicized introduction with which he begins Continental Drift: With a story like this, you want an accounting to occur, not a recounting, and a presentation, not a representation, which is why it’s told the way it’s told.

This is an American story of the late twentieth century, writes Banks and he means it: this is a powerful novel of hope and loss set in the recession of the early 1980's, concerned with characters who c
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Mythili
When I saw Russell Banks speak at the Brooklyn Book Festival a few years ago, he read a couple of passages from Continental Drift. He prefaced his reading with the comment that while it might seem strange that he was revisiting a book he'd written in the 80s, its themes had been on his mind lately. I can see why. Set in a recession, Continental Drift is interested in things like the cost of pursuing the American dream, the definition of contemporary manhood, and the relationship between the fate ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I picked this book to read because it was one of the few I could find set in the Bahamas, and I was headed there on vacation. It is the story of a man unhappy in his dead-end life in New Hampshire, who relocates his family to Florida to work for his brother. There is also a more mystical story of a woman leaving Haiti who is bound to intertwine with Bob at some point, but the how was less expected.

After finishing the book, which I took breaks from because it wasn't really grabbing me, I read mor
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Gemma
When I finished this book I literally felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I've only had that happen from literature a few times in my life, and it is truly stunning. It's a stunning novel, in scope, in prose, in personal-is-political, political-is-personal thought.
Sharon Styer
With this book I became a complete fan of Russell Banks' writing. It's not the pleasant family households he writes about. But, he writes a true description of how we are.
I remember a line from Mike Nichols, the playwright. He said something like this: How are we really? How do people really react in situations. That's been my tapline towards reading ever since.
Russell Banks writes down to the bone of our truths. How the hell does he know how so many types of people do react.
His subjects drive
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Clif
I was just reading a report in the NY Times about a man suffering from delusions, of how he made it through a rough period in his life and is now doing well with the help of his wife and drugs.

Every one of us is on a chemical continuum from off-the-wall crazy to comatose. This is a good reason for compassion since we play the game of life with the equipment we have, lacking the "right" amount of one chemical and having too much of another. While some may say we determine the course of our lives
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Kate Walker
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mark
Given that Russell Banks has written so many books and had several of them turned into well-known movies, I am amazed that I hadn't read anything by him before now. I am going to have to make up for lost time! What an amazing wordsmith. In the span of a single paragraph, his prose describes a character in such a way that the reader feels like he not only knows who the character is, but what makes him tick, his dreams and aspirations and his failures. I was constantly struck by the sheer beauty o ...more
Jessica
After reading 20 books this year that all were 3s and 4s I was looking for something that would really stand out and earn a 5. Reading ‘good’ books is fine but occasionally you want something to really blow you away or make an impact that you will remember. Banks does not disappoint with Continental Drift. His best books are those that tackle the big ideas like the American dream. He sets out to be epic and succeeds with this novel. The book follows two people looking for a better life – a boile ...more
Alyce
Don't ever, ever mess with Ghede is all I can say. What a great book, about people and their separate lives, troubles, desperations. And of course some desperate journeys are much much worse than others, although people don't always get that they're lucky in the grand scheme of life to have the difficulties that they have as opposed to the ones others do. It's one of those great books where journeys collide into one another, so randomly, and what happens. Also, one of the most well written parts ...more
Nicole
Even most of the people who didn't like this book keep saying it is well-written in their comments. For me, this is the biggest problem. I could stomach more of Bob Dubois in my life if the writing were no so unbelievably turgid.

I also am finding that Bob's solidness as a character -- he is, for me at least, fully realized and present for the reader -- makes it all the more... what, frustrating? I'm kind of wanting to say offensive, actually ... that the Haitian characters are so clearly Haitia
...more
Mega
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Robyn
Eh, a little too Harry 'welcome to the dirty South, Florida style" Crews for my liking, without packing the emotional punch of a more fully-realized Florida novel like 'A Feast of Snakes.' This novel follows a working class, all-American guy type who thinks he has it rough and an immigrant from Haiti who really does and the circumstances that lead to their paths meeting and the man's death in a dim little corner of Southern Florida. Don't worry, I didn't give anything away - you're told that all ...more
Anna
Rarely do I find a character who says something so honest that I feel the author has stripped the cover from my own thoughts and revealed them as absurd. By absurd I mean a naked explanation of an event that divorces it of any detached romanticism and presents it plainly, preserving its integrity and exposing its insidious or ridiculous nature. Bob Dubois, the 30-year-old New Hampshire man who is one of two main characters, feels a knot of despair in his stomach one evening. He meets his mistres ...more
Jason Heath
Feb 04, 2008 Jason Heath rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lit. lovers
The Loa Narrator

In reading Continental Drift, a tragedy in every sense, I was struck by how usual the novel was in its structure and its distinct narrator. Banks employs a Haitian loa (a spirit of the dead) to tell us the story of Bob Dubois, a frustrated, blue-collar resident of New Hampshire, and Vanise Dorsonville, a Haitian immigrant, and young mother, looking to escape to America for a significantly better life. The traditional use of the narrator as an all-knowing persona, as Russell Banks
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Audrey
This is my third experience with Russell Banks. This book, which apparently was his first to receive critical acclaim in the 1980s, may not be everyone's cup of tea. In it, Banks experiments with the narrative point of view. But it works for the subject: a sweeping tale of the intertwined destinies of Bob Dubois, an everyman whose life slowly unravels, and Vanise, a Haitian refugee. The language is as lush and dense as the landscapes of Haiti and Florida, and quite appropriate to the scale of th ...more
Serene
I like a book that is both action-packed and has memorable characters, and this is one of them. There are two strands to the story, one centered around Bob, a working class boiler repairman who moves to Florida in search of a better life, and the other around Vanise, a Haitian woman fleeing the grinding poverty of her homeland. Understandably, the first strand, being more reflective of the author's background, is more intimate and complex, and where the central questions of the story get asked: ...more
Carrie
'Damn good writing.'
I picked this up because I thought it might offer some inspiration as I piece together a documentary concerning what it means to drift, move ones home, change one's country and culture. But when I finished, I realized that this book spoke to me from a dusty corner of a crowded New Orleans bookstore for an entirely different reason. And I am glad it spoke to me.

I read it on and off for half a year because it can be unrelentingly bleak and switching between vastly different n
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Lostinanovel
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Debbie
This book was recommended in The End of Your Life Book Club, and it was a great read. The American Dream not really working out that well. It follows Bob as he grows tired with his job repairing furnaces in New Hampshire and packs up his wife and 2 young daughters to "get rich" in Florida working for his brother. Meanwhile, in Haiti and adolescent boy gets into trouble with the village police for stealing a ham and he and his aunt and infant cousin must flee the island with the hope of getting t ...more
Grace
I wish I could give half stars, because I'd probably give this 3.5 stars....Something about it just rubbed me the wrong way...not sure what it was. I think maybe I felt like Banks was kind of exploiting the main character, although at times I felt like it was a very stark and true to life portrayal of a man who simply couldn't make anything of his life no matter how hard he tried. Then again, it's quite possible that the entire point of the book was lost on me. It was one of those books that I w ...more
Melody
I read this right after "An American Tragedy" by Theodore Dreiser. I know I have a tendency to see how everything in life links up nicely - but these dang books just were too crazy alike. Not to the point that Russell Banks should be called out. But just a reminder that life is hard and we pay for our mistakes. We might be able to skip merrily around for a while - but eventually mistakes will be right on your left shoulder ready to collect. My husband said he wouldn't have seen the parallels if ...more
Marc
This novel did nothing for me. I never cared a whit about any of the characters, including (and especially) Bob the main one. Why would I? He just drifted though life, making one dumb mistake after another and bringing nothing but unhappiness to himself, his poor wife and innocent young children--not to mention just about everyone else he came in contact with.

The Haitian characters never came alive for me. In fact, they only took away from the narrative for me. It was obvious the two plots woul
...more
Stacey
I decided to read this book because it was mentioned in "The end of your life book club" as one of the most depressing reads ever, and I really love a good depressing read. Unfortunately, I realized that I prefer depressing books where the characters are resilient in the face of their struggles. The American family annoyed me - mostly the dad, Bob Dubois. He felt like a complainer who would be forever unsatisfied with his life. The Haitian characters were a bit more interesting but the female al ...more
Laura
I really enjoyed this book, even though it's not a particularly easy read (there is LOTS of rape). Banks plays with narrative devices to great effect -- we have invocations to the gods; we have sweepingly omniscient third-person plural; claustrophobic third-person singular. There is just some great, sparkling prose.
This is a tragedy in the very purest sense: some characters are self-destructive and others are simply destroyed by others, but no one comes through unshaken (including the reader).
Al
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Lynn
Ugh. I kind of hated this book (and I've only truly disliked approximately 5 books that I've ever read.) I know Russell Banks is supposed to be this extraordinary writer, and I will readily admit that he has a way with words but the story was bleak and depressing. Banks writes effectively about the loss of the American Dream and what happens when you take a perfectly average life, gamble on a move and end up spiraling into disaster with one bad decision after another.

In the meantime, Banks inte
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Elizabeth (Alaska)
Abandoned at a little past 100 pages. I was really looking forward to this, happy to have finally found a place in a challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed Banks' Cloudsplitter. It's not that this isn't well-written, but I found myself not interested in the people, the blue language, nor the explicit sex.
David Redden
This book got me going right away with its pretentious "invocation" and I never recovered. The writing is insufferably grand and serious, the characters unrelatable caricatures, and the story (or as much as I could read of it) depressing, predictable, and, in places, gratuitously pornographic. If you can't tell, I didn't like it. I understand other people do though, so there you go.
Kirsten
So awful I only made it to page 39. Full of pretentious pontificating and no evidence of a story or characters, unless you count "depressed middle-aged New England male" as a character worth reading about (as if we haven't been constantly reading about this guy ad nauseum for decades and decades courtesy of Philip Roth, John Irving, etc., etc.). I'm taking a pass this time!
Susan  Odetta
This is a novel about mind-numbingly adolescently narcissistic men (Seriously. I would have killed the protagonist in the first 50 pages) and clueless women drifting, along with their children, like flotsam on the ocean, bumping into other clumps of human flotsam on a circularly random never-ending journey. Beautifully written, morally bankrupt, and very depressing.
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Russell Banks is a member of the International Parliament of Writers and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes and awards. He has written fiction, and more recently, non-fiction, with Dreaming up America. His main works include the novels Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplit ...more
More about Russell Banks...
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“Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.” 1836 likes
“All those happy, pretty, successful people- he hated them because he knew they didn't really exist, and he hated even more the magazine that glorified them and in a way that made them exist, actors, rock musicians, famous writers, politicians. Those aren't people, he fumed, they're photographs. 7 likes
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