Continental Drift

by Russell Banks

Paper Book, 1985




New York : Perennial, 2000, c1985.


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.

Media reviews

While the scope of ''Continental Drift'' is huge - the author wants to do nothing less than capture American life as it exists today - it remains, somehow, acutely personal; in the story of Bob Dubois's sad, brief life, we catch a frightening glimpse of our own mortality.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rocketjk
Given the glowing review quotes on the back cover of this book, including one by Joyce Carol Oates, you might imagine that Continental Drift was a minor classic. But I found this book, first published in 1985, to be deeply flawed, and I wonder whether it was a novel that made a deep impression
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because it accurately reflected the tenor of its times, but just hasn't stood up that well. Continental Drift is the noirish story of Bob Dubois, a good man with a good, if normal, life -- steady if low paying job, good family life, good community -- who one day realizes the dead end he's in and wants out. So the family packs up and moves from New Hampshire to Florida at the behest Bob's older brother, who has a job and promises of "get rich soon" for him. It does not take a fortune teller to let you know this is not going to work out well. Additionally, there is a very good side plot about Haitians trying to get to America.

There is a lot of very good writing in this novel, which is what kept me going, but it's a book of bleakness and foreboding, a depressing book without the greatness of, say, Under the Volcano or The Executioner's Song, to help mitigate the sense of dread. Bob is presented as a good man, but his choices are all bad, and his self-pity made me lose patience relatively soon. I do think that atmosphere of bleakness is emblematic of the 80s, I time when whatever was left of the promise of the counter-culture was clearly gone for good, and what was left was the heartless politics and the mad scramble for cash of the Regan years. I was talking this over with my wife last night. We both agreed that while our current times feel somehow more desperate than the 80s were, that era was bleaker. So I can understand how readers then might have felt they were seeing their world represented. But while there's still plenty of insight into the human condition, here, I felt that the main character was too weak a figure for the book to hold up overall.
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LibraryThing member jahlen
Continental Drift, like many of Banks' books, starts with his main character(s) somewhere in midlife and having been pretty much beaten down, usually by forces beyond their control.

In Continental Drift, Bob, a small town New Englander, does not know how to cope with the frustration of his life.
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His only outlet is a local bimbo he occasionally hits on in a bar.

The other character, a Haitian women named Vanise, is probably the more remarkable. Like Bob, she's been beaten down, but the obstacles she faces are not merely boredom and a lack of satisfaction; her obstacles threaten her physical and spiritual existence.

In the background is Bob's wife who seems simply to endure, but it soon becomes apparent that, while Bob flounders through his life, she is the one with strength.

The two begin their separate journeys to Florida, where they believe they realize salvation.

It doesn't happen. Though both show incredible resilience (she more than he), it seems that each time there looks to be a chance of rising above their respective lots, they get beaten down again.

There are points in the book where you wonder "how much more can he/she take?"

Then your read another chapter and say "jeez...they can take a lot more".
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LibraryThing member wendellg
one of my favourite novels - it just blew me away when i first read it over Christmas took almost half a year to read in 2005 between my other reading but it was more that worth it.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Russell Banks really knows how to tell a good story. On the surface, it's about Bob Dubois and his downward spiral. Bob is a New Hampshire man who seems to have it all: a wife, two kids, a decent job, a house, a boat to take out on the weekends and even a girlfriend on the side. His problem: greed.
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He is a man who compares himself too often to the people around him: his brother, his best friend. He doesn't let go of grudges or jealousies all that easily. Feeling like the man who has nothing to lose, he gives up everything to move to Florida for a "fresh start." His tale is just the vessel for Banks to describe a society fueled by the overwhelming need for more and more. Excess is not enough. Bob soon learns the meaning of "good enough" when his life spins out of control.
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LibraryThing member warda
As [Cloudsplitter] ranks somewhere in my top 25 books and I thought [The Sweet Hereafter] was fairly decent as well, I really tried to like this book. It is the story of the Everyman "Bob" in his early 30s, who, disappointed with his prosaic life, uproots his family and tries to replant them in
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Florida. Bob sees Florida as a place of affluence and abundance - the men rich, the women exotic, the boats fast, and the scenery bursting with oleander and orange blossoms. But one mistake rapidly follows another, and Bob begins to drown in the cumulative weight of his failures. The story is told in parallel with that of a woman struggling to make the journey from Haiti to Florida. This portion should have made the book more interesting, but her story suffers from a surfeit of voodoo, which I found to be a major distraction. Every last man in [Continental Drift] is self-loathing, weak and a disappointment, and as a result, so was the novel.
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LibraryThing member doggroomer
Maybe it's just me, but I really liked this book. I could relate to Bob's decision to make a new start in Florida. How many people in dead-end jobs, fighting the cold & snow, and just making it from one paycheck to the next haven't engaged in that fantasy? Most of us blunder on, not wanting to risk
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our job's benefits (like health insurance), or are reluctant to sever the ties that bind us to a place, while we just hope that things will get better. Bob chooses to go with a dream, and is led to believe, by his brother who appears to be successful, that by doing so, things will get better. When catastrophe shows him just who his brother really is, he doesn't give up, but takes the helping hand of his best friend, still hoping to make his life better. That Ave isn't really the man he appears to be either, is something that Bob learns way too late, when he's in so deep, he must do something that is aberrant to the man he is. Only after the horrifying occurrence that ensues is Bob ready to give up & and go back to the life he left - but even then, he still tries to do something that will begin to redeem himself to himself.

Vanise is a passive character, someone to whom "things happen". Although I sympathize with her & the hideous ordeals that she went through, it was her nephew, Claude, that had the courage to try to make a change in their lives.

I feel like this novel is about the ways in which we never really know another person. At least, not until the "chips are down". None of the characters could depend on one another. It was a great illustration of how we are each alone in this world and can only control what we ourselves do. At the end of the day, Bob attempted to control what became of his ill-gotten gains and to attempt to recover his integrity.

Oh, and by the way, I thought that the voodoo rituals were pretty amazing, but then I've always been intrigued by other cultures.
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LibraryThing member jawalter
I still love Russell Banks, but this story didn't get me as excited as his other work. It wasn't just that he kept jumping between two different stories, but that they were told in such different ways. Bob Dubois is written with Banks' usual eye for telling details, but the story of Vanise and the
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other Haitians is told in a much more objective fashion. I never felt as though I knew their story as intimately as Bob's, as though they were an allegory, and their individual identities were less important than those of Bob and his family.
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LibraryThing member hayduke
You certainly cannot label this novel a "feel-good book." Russell Banks once again plumbs the depths of man's soul and his struggle (usually fruitless) to obtain a certain moral certainty in his life. The story starts off just before Christmas in New Hampshire and ends in a dingy back alley in the
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Haitian section of Miami. Another great novel by one of my favorite writers.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
I liked this book - mostly. I've never been to America but it seemed like a pretty good description of what life could be like. I especially found resonance with the character and situation of Bob. His relationship with his brother and his concept of his brother's life was explored well. Indeed, it
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was probably explored at significantly greater depth than I was able to perceive and comprehend. Likewise Bob's relationship with women. I think I'd probably benefit from studying this book in English 101 (or American Culture 101). I wasn't so interested in the Haitian's religiosity. I suspect the author was trying to say something that didn't get through to me!
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
When I went to graduate school for writing, I learned that there are grad school books and authors. These are the authors or titles you likely have never heard of before entering an MFA program, but you're going to hear about them before they let you leave. During my two years there, no unknown
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name came up more than Russell Banks. Three of my four mentors highly pushed his work to me. Each pushing a different title (one mentor recommended two or three different titles). At the time, I did read The Sweet Hereafter, which I enjoyed somewhat, but Banks didn't grasp my attention enough to completely reel me in. It has been eight years since I read that novel, so I felt it was time to give Banks another shot. This time he certainly reeled me in.

I had to look back on my review of The Sweet Hereafter to recall why I didn't love it. Apparently, I thought Banks was ineffective at accurately giving voice to his characters. I find this surprising, because this was certainly not a problem in Continental Drift. I actually thought Banks did a marvelous job giving voice to his characters. Maybe that was the case with my first outing with Banks. Maybe I'm just a much different reader now.

Continental Drift is one of the most—if not the single most—American novel I've ever read. It's the story of people from different backgrounds who are struggling to get ahead. Each believes there is hope in a dream that is unequivocally American. The strength of these characters and the believability Banks lends to their situations are two of the largest components to this novel's excellence. These are characters who genuinely believe they're good people despite the evidence to the contrary. This is the heart and soul of America.

This is a novel that can be disgusting, depressing, or offensive to its reader. It puts on display a cross-section of the American people, their selfish justification and their pompous dream. I've never heard Continental Drift among the list of contenders for the title of the Great American Novel, but I certainly believe there are few novels more American than this. Banks is an author I will assuredly return to.
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LibraryThing member kukulaj
A newspaper report on Haitian migrants tossed off a boat and drowning off the coast of Florida. How could such cruelty arise? The allure of a liquor advertisement, the yacht, the beautiful woman... what would it take to live that life? The slide from greed to cruelty.... here it is, a gritty story.
LibraryThing member sblock
I love Russell Banks and am working being a completist but this book is very, very dark.
LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
This is my first Russell Banks and it won't be my last. Banks is a great writer and keen observer of the human condition. I'm already planning to read Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter sometime in 2021. Glad I ended 2020 strong with this book.


Pulitzer Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 1986)



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