Karin's Reviews > Continental Drift

Continental Drift by Russell Banks
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Apr 14, 08

Read in April, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Where to begin? The writing was excellent. Banks is very talented with words. The story was disturbing, though. I think he meant for it to be disturbing, but I'm not sure he meant for it to disturb me in the way it did. This is how it struck me: another self-absorbed, self-piteous man trying to rationalize the "bad" things he does into "good" things, thereby evading the central question of his life: "Am I a good man?" I was not so much into that theme. It reminded me of dozens of other books I've read, and had to read, especially in high school and college. It reminded me of "A Personal Matter" by Kenzaburo Oe, and it reminded me of Holden Caufield and Hamlet. The tragedy. The tragedy that is completely centered around one man and his ability to keep his shit together. One man who doubts himself, who wants more than he has, who is a dreamer, a seeker; one who seeks at the expense of others--mainly, his family--and absorbs the guilt for exchanging base desires for his family's happiness or protection. Maybe I am being harsh. I really didn't like the main character. He seemed just like so many other male protagonists who I've been expected to take seriously: preoccupied with the badness within. Preoccupied with his own sin. And also preoccupied with his own "prick," as Banks wrote. Male characters who perpetually fantasize about sex, about "fucking woman," about "cunt"--I am not a fan.

What infuriated me most was his portrayal of rape. The two Haitian characters, making their way to America, are exploited in many, many ways. The woman is raped over and over and over--in different situations, by different men, for different reasons. Generally Banks mentions this in passing. He does not describe her agony. The only time he talks about the destructiveness of rape is when the boy is raped--he is only raped once, in the story--and HE gets a whole eloquent paragraph or two describing how horrible it was. The woman? Nothing. And then, the next morning, the boy has a "realization" that he does not need to feel ashamed anymore. How unrealistic a portrayal is that? The way sex is used in this book, as a metaphor, or a symbol, or just something else bad that happens, that sort of emotional deadness that maybe Banks is trying to portray, just did not sit well with me. Folks everywhere were objectified in this book. Yuck.

All the female characters were good, pure, solid. All the male characters wound up dead or in jail--failures.

Difficult as those things were to read, unpleasant as the self-important private ramblings of the main character were to sift through, I appreciated the satire of the parallel stories a great deal. Bob, the main character, coming down to FL from NH, working his ass off, discovering he's poor, and exploiting illegal immigrants in order to maintain his unenviable standard of living. The Haitians, Vanise and Claude, coming north to FL across the Caribbean, enduring hardships Bob couldn't imagine--these two storylines offset each other and gave each other depth. I'm not sure yet what they're each saying about the other, or about themselves.

I suppose, now that I've vented about the things that most irked me about this book, that it's not necessarily this BOOK I'm angry about, it's my perception of gender roles. How much of my baggage am I bringing into my reading of this story? How clearly am I able to read it?
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