Thursday, March 7, 2013

Continental Drift by Russell Banks

A gripping read, but terribly depressing!  It's really a tale of the "American Dream" gone horribly awry.  Set in the late 70s-early 80s, Bob Dubois is a working class man in small town New Hampshire.  He lives in the town he was raised, has only been away while in the service, married to his first girlfriend, has two young daughters, a girlfriend on the side, and barely scrapes by fixing heaters for a living.  One Christmas, when he can't afford new skates for his daughter, he has a breakdown as he decides his life is going nowhere.  So the family sells everything and he follows his fast talking brother, Eddie, to Florida on the promise of getting a cut of his brother's growing liquor store business.  But Eddie is, not surprisingly, big on promises but short on delivery.  Bob is not given a partnership, lives in a trailer with his family and slaves away as his brother's employee.  He gets himself in trouble when he falls for and has an affair with a black woman (the first he's ever really talked to given his sheltered upbringing), shoots at two men robbing the store and his wife gives birth to a son.  He can't cope with the aftermath of the shooting (particularly the changes it has brought about in his personality) so he quits his job and follows another dreamer, his old friend Ave, down to the Florida Keys.  Here he's promised a cut of a fishing charter business.  So he sells his trailer to buy into the fishing boat and the family rents a ramshackle smaller trailer.  The fishing business turns out to be a front for Ave's drug smuggling business.

Interwoven with this story is the story of poor Haitians trying to make their way to the US and the troubles they face when first dumped in Turks and Caicos and then the Bahamas.  It takes until nearly the end of the book to see how the two stories tragically join up.

I won't give away the end except to say Eddie's debts catch up with him, Ave's drug smuggling ends no better, the Haitians don't really find the lives they are seeking and it all breaks Bob's spirits - and worse.

Really a good book but not a light vacation read.

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