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Continental Drift
by Russell Banks


The Nation, James Marcus
Early in Continental Drift, Russell Banks compares the migrations of humanity to those of the elements: tides, winds, whole landmasses making their well-mapped, decorous circuit of the planet. One of the marvels of this book is the way it combines such an aerial perspective with particular, earthbound lives. Seen from ground level--the vantage point of most lives--this perpetual exodus has little of the bland and unimpeachable brutality of natural disaster. Instead, it can look heroic--a dogged determination to cheat entropy and death for as long as possible. This persistence, "an old-fashioned, biblical kind of heroism," powers the migratory lives in Continental Drift and makes even their eventual wreckage a source of celebration.




From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Saturday, February 15, 2003 10:16 PM Whenever I think about Continental Drift, I remember the famous quote from Faulkner saying (I'm broadly paraphrasing, here) that there are two ways of measuring writers' success--either by what they attempt or what they achieve, and that he preferred the former standard. Not only am I in awe of what Russell Banks achieves in this novel, I'm even more in awe of what he attempts, and the technical risks that he takes in doing so. Going from a very down-to-earth narrative in the early section titled "Pissed," straight to "Batterie Maconnique" which not only happens halfway around the world and appears unrelated to anything in the story so far, but begins with a grand statement that attempts to relate weather patterns to the evolution of human beings(?!). This was a mind-blower for me, particularly when he's suddenly speaking in first person as a villager in remote Haiti. As unlikely a setup as all of this was, going back and forth between the grand/universal and the personal/particular, plus two parallel story lines with no hint of how/if they'll come together, for some reason I suspended any reservations I had and went along for the long and bumpy ride. This is one of a few novels whose ending struck me almost like a physical blow. Before reading Continental Drift, despite the fact that I've worked much of my life as a journalist, I was able to maintain that self-defensive mindset of distancing myself emotionally from the daily news I read, especially the international variety. Ever since this novel, though, any time I read a news story about suffering people, no matter where, I start imagining specific people as real as the characters in Continental Drift, and I have to cut short my reading before I get totally bummed out. Not sure if this after-effect is altogether beneficial, but it seems to be permanent. Anyhow...for my money, I found the "Great American Novel" of the 20th Century, and it's by Russell Banks. I can only second the NY Times reviewer on the cover blurb of my copy, who says, "A visionary epic about innocence and evil and a shattering dissection of contemporary American life. It lingers in our mind long after we finish the novel." I look forward to hearing you guys' comments about this one. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (2 of 20), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 15, 2003 10:53 PM Dale, what a mind blower of a book! In addition to all that you mention, he also managed to tie it in with the inevitability of a universal drifting of all matter, be it physical or emotional. There was such a complexity of wisdom in this book. I think the one thing that hit me between the eyes is that we are always looking to move, to drift, to search for anything better than what we have. And in the end, all we really do is trade. We trade what we sometimes see as our sorrowful or boring or unfulfilled lives in hopes for better lives, and in the end, as often as not, we trade down. But, like geological shelves that constantly but unnoticeably shift, eventually changing the structure of our world, small events add up to become the total of our most personal monumental event, that of our entire life. Everyone was a victim in this book..every single character, without exception. And it made me wonder, are we all victims of one sort or another? Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (3 of 20), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 15, 2003 11:31 PM And who is this Vanise and what is the purpose of her story in this book? Bob Dubois got himself in enough fixes that Banks didn't need to add Vanise in order to arrive at the same outcome. He included her story for a reason. I believe it has something to do with the near-ending, when Vanise refuses to accept Bob's offering, forcing him to do without the absolution he so desperately wanted. I don't think he wanted absolution just for the drownings; I think it represented a forgiveness for a lifetime of guilt and maybe even more so, failure. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (4 of 20), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 07:36 AM Absolution, absolutely, Beej. He wanted to be a "good" man, and Vanise would not grant him that. She had lost more than most of the others. She had her life, true, but at what cost? And why did he refuse to give the money to the men in the alley? Calling it my money? Spoiler spoiler spoiler Maybe he knew they would do what they did, and he wouldn't have been able to live with himself without that very absolution he needed to live. I was so sorry about Claude. He was the one I wish could have survived. He had the oomph to actually get a little piece of the American Dream. I've been thinking a lot about how this novel differs from so many others I've read (most with happy or happier endings) that in some way involve the American dream. That striving to get more, getting out of a bad situation and becoming a hero of sorts in your own life. Continental Drift seems almost a deconstruction of that Dream. It takes up the story where most books won't go. It follows an ordinary man. The kind you see in malls who have at least one two many kids and a tired frowzy wife, and credit card debt up to the ceiling. Who aren't particularly smart, who haven't grown up and who still watch the commercials with all the sleek people driving Beemers. Our culture makes out that everybody deserves everything. It's engine is the engine of greed and longing. It works for some, those with enough smarts and planning and care that they don't wind up in no-way-out places like our "hero" did. But for the mass of people, I don't think it works at all. Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (5 of 20), Read 36 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 12:40 PM Since I've only started my rereading, the first in several years, my memory of the details of what is coming is vague. But what a book! Picking it up again, opening it, causes a physical dread and sadness. I had (of course!) forgotten the... INVOCATION: the act or process of petitioning for help or support; specifically often capitalized : a prayer of entreaty (as at the beginning of a service of worship) b : a calling upon for authority or justification This "invocation" seemed a bold decision, almost pretentious. But it was a warning of other bold decisions to come. Tonya
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (6 of 20), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 02:37 PM I thought the portrait of Bob was perfect. And I loved the sections about him, they rang so true. He wasn't a bad guy at heart, just unable to see beyond the end of his nose. Every time he made another bad decision, I just cringed for him. I zoned out a bit on the other sections, especially the descriptions of the voodoo stuff. Somehow Banks never got me to be as fully involved in those as I was in Bob's story. I'm wondering if this is because Bob's story is probably closer to Banks experience than the story of the Haitians, therefore he was a bit distanced and so were we. Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (7 of 20), Read 39 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 04:27 PM I wonder now if the 'American Dream' as it is generally defined, is a big hoax. Heck, I even wonder what exactly the American Dream is at all, now! Both Vanise and Bob, as well as their families, gave up a whole lot to try to make that dream come true. Were they aiming for something that doesn't exist? Do we all live our lives willing to give up the good things we do have in order to achieve a fairy tale? It really bothered me, after all Bob went thru, even if it was all of his own making, that nobody hardly even remembered him a few years down the road. Maybe the only true dream we can hope to gain is that our lives are remembered and celebrated, that we make a positive difference in others' lives, and that can be our legacy. Otherwise, what is there, but a bank full of fat cats, feeding off our mistakes. I'm really stuck on this American Dream business after reading this book. The land of the free...are we really free? Or has our misconception of the American Dream imprisoned us? It's been a long, long time since a book has stopped me dead in my tracks the way this one has. Sherry, I think he called it 'his money' because after Vanise refused to take it, he felt he had earned it. Of course, the price he paid for that money was his hope. I loved how you referred to this book as 'deconstruction of that (American) Dream.' I think that was exactly Banks' intention. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (8 of 20), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 04:48 PM Okay, so Bob and Vanise looked for a better life, followed a dream. And it only led to disaster. Is Banks saying people shouldn't take risks to change their lives? Or is it that Bob and Vanise took the wrong risks? Or followed the wrong dream? Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (9 of 20), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 04:59 PM I believe the comments so far go right to the core of this troubling novel, including what Beej calls "the American Dream business." I know in my heart that democracy is the best system for living together that anybody on earth has yet come up with, but the American spin on it, especially in the recent ascendance of the far-Right, results in the using up and disposing of millions of Bob Dubois without a second thought. I'm especially offended by the simplistic, so-called patriotic songs that are on pop/country radio right now. Only is called "Only in America" and some of the lyrics are: Only in America Where we dream in red, white and blue Only in America Where we dream as big as we want to Everybody gets a chance Everybody gets to dance Only in America... Bob dreamed big and got his chance and got to dance, I guess, but the outcome sure doesn't lend itself to a song of peppy self-congratulation. The term "class warfare" is a political football, but I've never seen a time in my own life when the rich and powerful were more solidly, and arrogantly, in the driver's seat than now. Whew. OK, glad I got that off my chest. Tonya writes of Banks's introduction: This "invocation" seemed a bold decision, almost pretentious. But it was a warning of other bold decisions to come. I agree. To me, this element is what makes the book such a paradox. I generally don't have much tolerance for authors of fiction who "preach" in the process, but I think (a) Banks does so like an angel, and (b) his admonitions are given credence by what's going on before our eyes in Continental Drift. One of my favorite "sermons" is where he says: If the planet survives, it will only be through heroism. Not occasional heroism, a remarkable instance of it here and there, but constant heroism, systematic heroism, heroism as governing principle... I've long known these kinds of declarations are true abstractly, intellectually, but somehow in the context of the story he's telling, the ideas are made real and immediate to me. Ruth raises the excellent question: ...is it that Bob and Vanise took the wrong risks? Or followed the wrong dream? Apparently so. But that poses the question, Given their abilities and circumstances, what were their other choices? No matter how big Bob dreamed, he wasn't going to write a software program that made a million dollars. So, should he have tried to make the cut in pro hockey? I think the fact that so many realize "the dream" comes only because part of the mechanism of the dream is to set up such unrealistic expectations. So do we just take the casualties with the successes, or is there a better (and fairer) way? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (10 of 20), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 04:59 PM I don't know, Ruth. And it's one of the reasons this book has set me on my head. Bob was making zero bucks with which to support his family. He couldn't even afford to get his kid ice skates for Christmas. I don't think his dream to do better by his family was an outlandish or greedy dream. I don't know where he made his mistake. Another thing that bothered me was his total lack of guilt over his affairs. It was as tho he felt he had a car, a home, a girlfriend, a job, a family...like the girlfriend was just something normal to have in married life. I'm not really sure what Bob was looking for when he left NH. Maybe he was just trying to feel like he mattered. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (11 of 20), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 05:09 PM Dale, what an outstanding post! Thank you! Did anyone else feel as though they were getting almost an 'aerial observation' of Vanise? Ruth touched on this, I think. I had the feeling as tho I were travelling right with Bob, silently and helplessly watching as he fell and fell and fell. But with Vanise's story, it felt as tho I were watching this from way, way out of the story. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (12 of 20), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 07:24 PM Excellent notes and observations, everyone. The political message of this novel truly resonated with me. I know I've said before here that I teach some of the children of the Bobs of the world. When I listen to the glib pronouncements of the privileged among us blaming the poor for everything that happens to them, I can get a bit crazy because I watch their struggles on a daily basis. My own take on this question is that the U.S. is a terrific place but it has a long, long way to go before it truly lives up to the dream of equal opportunity for all. I loved Dale's quote from Faulkner about the greatness of a book coming from what the author attempts as well as what he/she does. In this case, I thought that Banks attempt was incredible. Like everyone else, I thought that he was most successful with Bob's story. However, I thought his inclusion of the Haitian story was an important piece of what he was saying. The comparison between what the Haitians thought the U.S. would be and what Bob experienced was essential. And, even if they had known what Bob had, wouldn't it have looked good to them in comparison to what was happening in their homeland? My only criticism is that I thought he should have left out a bit of the narrator comment and just let the events, character and dialogue tell his story. They did such a good job in and of themselves. I'm sure this has been a hotly debated question in discussion of this book elsewhere though I've never seen it. What did you all think about this question? Barb
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (13 of 20), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 07:27 PM I'm with you, Barb. I don't think the narrator stuff was needed. And no matter how well written it was, nor how much I might have enjoyed reading it in another context, I found it somewhat jarring in the middle of a novel. Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (14 of 20), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 08:34 PM I've been browsing through the beginning sections of the book to try and find out what really happened. Despite a paycheck that left them barely nothing extra, Bob Dubois did not have a bad life. Bob knew he would advance some day to a supervisory position. He had two adoring daughters and a loving wife. He and Elaine owned a duplex, and rented out the half they didn't live in. He paid for almost everything with cash. His life was better than a whole lot of other people's. The problem was, he was thirty years old. And he felt that what he had was all he would ever have, and he felt his life was over. He wanted more and felt it was his right to climb the ladder. And it was his right, because he had grown up in a world where nobody he knew had to simply settle for survival. This the question I can't seem to answer..Bob, for whatever reason, be it bad luck or poor choices or both, failed at grabbing the brass ring. He knew the gig was up after those people drowned. He knew that the best shot he had was to return to New Hampshire and try to recapture what he had left. In other words, he was willing to settle for survival. And I wonder, was going into little Haiti really a suicide? Did he truly believe he would come out of there alive, especially after making it known he had that blood money? Would he rather not live if it meant settling for just survival? Was this a choice he was making? Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (15 of 20), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 08:49 PM Barb, The narrator's input didn't really bother me, though it probably should have, and usually it would have. But this book is so complex, I felt the comments might give a clue as to what all happened and why Banks wrote it the way he did. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (16 of 20), Read 22 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 10:53 PM The narrator comments for me provided a continuity in the novel based on a profound appreciation of humanity. For that reason I didn't feel a split in the novel despite the two narratives of Bob and Vanise. Rather, the narrative was like the deeply submerged currents on which the continents themselves move. It was my favorite part of the book. It made it more than about the American dream. It was about the seed of all human discontent which finds its origins deep down and rises through geology to geography to culture to the individual mind. We have seen discontent such as Bob's before. This feeling that the world owes one something as a right of existence. I call this the Flaubert Syndrome with reference to "Madame Bovary" and "A Sentimental Education." If Bamks was attempting things in this novel, I never sensed it. I felt that this novel had a wonderful steadiness and control. Solidity with movement like a contintent. I especially liked the image of people flowing over the land like water. Moving down to collect in the lowlands. In this case Florida with its 3 feet above sea level. Bob and Vanise washed down to the sea in a torrent of tears and rain water where their fates mingled each one unable to fully explain the tragic results. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (17 of 20), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 11:20 PM Sherry writes, It follows an ordinary man. The kind you see in malls who have at least one two many kids and a tired frowzy wife, and credit card debt up to the ceiling. Who aren't particularly smart, who haven't grown up and who still watch the commercials with all the sleek people driving Beemers. Our culture makes out that everybody deserves everything. Its engine is the engine of greed and longing. It works for some, those with enough smarts and planning and care that they don't wind up in no-way-out places like our "hero" did. But for the mass of people, I don't think it works at all. To which I reply, Bravo! Very, very well said. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (18 of 20), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, February 16, 2003 11:53 PM Bravissima! Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (19 of 20), Read 14 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 08:12 AM Well, thank you, Dale and Ruth. I very much like your post, Dean. Your idea that the narrator's behind-the-scenes flow is itself the "continental drift" makes perfect sense. I hadn't thought of it like that. Dale, I see now why you said this book made you see the world differently. It's hard to hide from the news (and sometimes you really need to) when you know the people involved. CD took both sides of an issue (and the narrator provided the broad landscape) and made them into real people. Sherry
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 09:39 AM Thanks, Sherry. I have enjoyed very much all the posts here. I think that what Dale said about seeing the news differently is precisely what Banks intended, when he said in the last chapter, "Envoi," , "Good cheer and mournfulness over lives other than our own, even wholly invented lives - no, especially wholly invented lives - deprive the world as it is of some of the greed it needs to continue to be itself. Sabotage and subversion, then are this book's objectives. Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is." That is a statement of the goal of literature and I think that this book has succeeded in that goal. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 11:57 AM Beej, With regard to your trying to solve the puzzle of where Bob went wrong in trying for the American Dream, I have two thoughts. First: Although he was a good repairman, and a long time dependable employee, and although he had good financial discipline (didn't marry until he saved a down payment, paid cash for everything) he struggled to support his family of 4 on his wages. Since this is something I've been going on and on for 10 years or more, the message seems clear. This class of worker in America is despised, reviled, misunderstood, underpaid, taken for granted-- take your choice. There are new studies almost every month that point out the widening gap between the lowest and highest paid workers in the country, and it is increasingly disgusting. Second: In his failed attempt he made an undeniable mistake; he chose an untrustworthy scoundrel to lead him to the better life. Tonya
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (22 of 38), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 02:05 PM And he KNEW he was an untrustworthy scoundrel. That's why he turned down the Florida invitations in years before. Why didn't he explore other options? At the least, trying something new in an area where he could fall back on his repairman skills if he needed to. I think it's because he was chicken. He was brave enough to try and make the change, but not brave enough to do it on his own. Didn't the book mention the old saying, "better the devil you know than the deveil you don't?" Well Eddie was the devil he knew. Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (23 of 38), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 03:49 PM Tonya, not to get too much off-track here, but I have evidence of the very phenomenon you are describing about the widening gap. When we were first married, I worked and Tom went to school. I had various office jobs, not too badly paid, but nothing to make us rich. In 1986 I was a temp worker for an insurance company in California and I made about $11 an hour. My son-in-law now gets $12 an hour as a carpenter. I was looking in the paper for jobs for Eric when he was living with us a while. It seems the pay-scale has gone BACKwards since I was in the job market. In 1975 I was making $500/month as a typist for a law firm. Some of the jobs in the paper were paying about that much NOW. Something's wrong with this picture. Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (24 of 38), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 05:34 PM After Bob's death Elaine took a job in a cannery and raised the kids on her own. Why couldn't this have been an option instead of moving to Florida? There seems to have been something about Bob's personality or upbringing that dictated to him that he had to support the family alone. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (25 of 38), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 05:40 PM Tonya: Amen, as to the disgustingly widening income gap. Ruth: Bob being "chicken" is part of the picture, I think, but often there's a lot of overlap between cowardice and the crippling quality of low self-esteem, and Bob's life circumstances certainly predisposed him to the latter. I believe the only route upward he saw for himself was being yanked up by somebody who had "made it" on their own power, ethical issues notwithstanding. Sherry: Not only are pay scales devolving, as you point out, but the current administration is expending tremendous effort and dollars on getting poor people off the welfare rolls and into one of these ridiculously low-paying full-time jobs, at which point their problems are all solved (?) and they're not poor any more...at least, statistically. Almost unbelievable short-sightedness on the part of those in power. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (26 of 38), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 05:42 PM Dean, Supporting the family alone was a pretty heavy message not too long ago. Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (27 of 38), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 06:39 PM I think it's important to remember that Eddie was Bob's brother. I don't think he ever had any perception of him as negative before he left for Florida. That was Elaine's impression. And, it would be pretty hard to resist the glory stories and promises of a brother when you felt like you were going to crack. That scene in which he smashed all the glass in his car was pretty vivid. Also, throughout Bob seemed imprisoned by the expectations of the men of his period of time. Of course, it would have helped if Elaine would have gone to work while he was alive, but men at that point and in his community didn't do that. And, of course, it was dumb for him to have sex with other women when he loved his wife. But, I'm betting that it was an acceptable value among the men that he knew. Barb
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (28 of 38), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 08:27 PM I don't think Bob was aware that his brother was in over his head when he went to Florida. All he knew was that his brother seemed to be prospering in Florida. Same with the friend. Bob didn't know Avery Boone was doing anything illegal when he went into business with him. If anything, Bob was guilty of being naive I think...sort of like the young girl who goes to NYC to fulfill a dream in the theater and instead, finds herself working the streets. I think one of the reasons Elaine didn't work was because she was trying to live a life as different from the one her parents lived as she could. Her dad had left the family and her mother 'worked herself practically to death at the cannery by the time she was forty five.' Elaine, by staying home with her children was living the life she always wanted, and giving her children what she herself did not have as a child. Both Elaine and Bob were trying to live lives different from either of their parents..Elaine succeeded only until Bob died, and then she too, just like her mother, went to work at the cannery. In a way, by going to little Haiti with that money, and refusing to give it to the Haitian boys, Bob escaped replicating what he viewed as his father's meaningless life. And, maybe that's exactly why he did what he did. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (29 of 38), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 09:49 PM These posts have been wonderful. I think that one (of many) of the sad points in this book was what happened to the children of Bob and Elaine. I am sure that Bob and Elaine were working so that their children would have a better future than theirs. Ruthie drops out of high school, Emma goes to beauty school but ends up being an alcoholic, and Robbie becomes a plumber. I sometimes wonder where we get this idea of the "American Dream". Was Bob's life in New Hampshire so horrible? I think about the movie AMERICAN BEAUTY where that family had all the material goods that anyone could wish for, and yet they were all still miserable. Since I have lived in a number of foreign countries and have seen people living in cardboard boxes, I think that Bob's life in N.H. could not have been that bad. Jane
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (30 of 38), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 10:15 PM I don't either Jane. But he was only thirty years old and felt that he would end up like his dad, spending his later years wistfully listening to sad music, dying without really ever having anything more than what he had at when he was thirty. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (31 of 38), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 10:34 PM . There were plenty of signs that both Eddie and Ave were bad news, right from the gitgo. If Bob was being naive he was being WILLFULLY naive. He didn't see it because he didn't WANT to. He didn't want to because if he had he couldn't have entertained the hope that Eddie and Ave were going to save him. That he was going to be lifted up by some agency other than his own efforts. I want to address the question of Margaret. What was her function in this story? Any ideas? Ruth Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (32 of 38), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, February 17, 2003 10:41 PM Ruth, I think you hit on a good point..Bob seemed to never try anything on his own. It was as if he had to have someone set up everything for him before he'd venture into anything. I thought about that earlier, to be honest, but then forgot until you mentioned it. As for Marguerite, it's somehow tied into Bob's bigotry and his fear of blacks, I believe. Do I think he was in love with her? Nah. He was in love with the idea of a little piece (no pun intended) of 'different,' is all. I think it was a MAJOR turn on for him. One thing I hated about this man was his lack of guilt over all these little hot mamas he had on the side. I got the feeling that because Elaine had sex one time with Avery, it was permission granted for him to have sex with anyone he wanted. I liked Elaine. I think she really tried to make Bob happy. Stupid? She was a total dumb dora. But she did the best with what she had. On the other hand, Bob was just plain disgusting. I didn't see him as this poor guy working his tushie off to support a family. Lots of people are in the same boat and they don't have such total disregard for their families. I didn't ever get the impression he wanted a better life for his wife and kids. He wanted a better life, mainly, for the purpose of stroking his own ego. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (33 of 38), Read 22 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 01:08 AM I agree, Beej. He seemed to be quite distant from feelings for his family. He knows only a misplaced sense of pride and an unspoken code of manhood (part cultural as Ruth mentioned). This became amusingly apparent when he and Ave finally discussed their respective affairs. That certainly cleared the air, didn't it? Beej, excellent points about Bob and Elaine's parents. I can't help thinking that Bob and Elaine's children would have finished the same way had B & E not gone to Florida. After all, Bob was an absentee father no matter what. This makes a strong contrast with the strong family and community ties of the Haitians. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (34 of 38), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 02:04 AM when he and Ave finally discussed their respective affairs Heehee. That was a priceless scene. Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (35 of 38), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 07:56 AM I think Bob suffered from what I call "Big-Shot Syndrome." Beej, I think you're right that he didn't want success because of his family, but because of his ego. His family almost seemed to be a drag on him, instead of the reason he worked. He had some warped belief that somehow the world wasn't holding up its end of the bargain, and he used shortcuts to try to get what he wanted. His needs were almost infantile. I think he had "girlfriends" because his wife didn't stroke that part of his ego that he thought deserved it. And this is why he felt no guilt about these rambles. He felt justified in being dishonest, but in the end it was that dishonesty that was his downfall. He was nowhere near as smart or as deep as he thought himself to be. Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (36 of 38), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 12:57 AM Jane poses an excellent question, I think: Was Bob's life in New Hampshire so horrible? True, probably 90 percent of the world's population would have considered his family's lifestyle relatively privileged. They owned a home, they didn't go hungry, and in the beginning of the book even owned a pleasure boat, though he rarely got a chance to use it. Plus, you couldn't accuse Bob of being sexually frustrated. I think Bob was miserable and desperate for two reasons...one, the unreasonable expectations raised by the hype of a consumer society, and two (at the risk of a cliche), he saw no "meaning" in his life. He didn't seem to feel a part of any larger community, had no close friends after Avery's departure, and his only stab (pardon the expression) at transcendence was sex on the side. The Haitians, on the other hand, despite the deprivation and cruelty that was their lives, at least had their extended families and their religion, however primitive and problematic, as sources of meaning and comfort. One modern theologian has said the ascendance of science and reason as the philosophical basis of our daily lives has "left a God-shaped hole in the sky" for millions of people. Is a flawed belief in a supernatural order better than none at all? What could Bob have believed in that would have made his situation turn out better? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (37 of 38), Read 7 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 07:03 AM "What could Bob have believed in that would have made his situation turn out better?" Dale asks. I think if he had turned his attention to his wife and children and really connected with them, he would have felt needed and useful. But then, we wouldn't have had much of a book. Sherry
From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 08:22 AM Dale, good questions. I think most of Bob's problems stemmed from feelings of failure that began when he was a boy. His parents were far from supportive. His father, particularly, instilled in Bob the deep rooted belief that he would never really do anything outstanding in life, or be 'good enough.' Couple that belief with the fact that human wants are never satisfied, and we end up with a person who is set up for failure. By nature he is looking for more. By nurture, whatever 'more' might be, it'll always remain just out of his reach. Beej
From: Peggy Ramsey ashputtle@comcast.com Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 12:12 PM Dale wrote: "I think Bob was miserable and desperate for two reasons...one, the unreasonable expectations raised by the hype of a consumer society..." Maybe it's the mood I'm in, or the "personal responsibility hobby horse" I've been riding lately, but I'm not inclined to let Bob off the hook that easily. Which is not to say that I was not sympathetic to his plight - there were moments - but there is no question that he was in a stew of his own making. His most damning flaw, IMO, is not the choices he made, but the fact that he dragged his family down with him. They always seemed to be an after thought, but I never got them impression that he was trying to make his family's situation better - only his situation. The scenes that did make me feel for Bob were the ones where his imagination took over. The one that stuck with me was where he was sitting in his brother's driveway, imagining how their meeting would go. Then he parleyed that into buying the boat and moving to a better place - it was a whole fantasy future constructed while he sat in the driveway, afraid to get out of the car. It felt real because it was real - I do that all the time. And more often than not, those little playlets stop me from getting out of the car and ringing the doorbell.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (40 of 57), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 04:37 PM Peggy: Good to hear from you! Banks renders those "driveway daydreams" with an eerie accuracy, doesn't he? I've been there, too. Then you look down the driveway toward the doorbell, and it seems a mile away. Speaking of which...in the few interviews I've seen with Banks, he comes across as very gracious and well-adjusted. But I recently found this quote: "Some magazine was asking writers what they would have become if they hadn't become a writer, and I told them what would have happened to me is that I would have been stabbed to death in the parking lot outside a bar in Florida at 24, or something like that." --Russell Banks to an interviewer So, it appears his real life might have some parallels to Bob Dubois's. Also...speaking of a father's influence on a child's life, I highly recommend the more recent Banks novel AFFLICTION. Much shorter than CONTINENTAL DRIFT, but no less a kick in the gut. I definitely don't suggest reading AFFLICTION immediately after CD, though. Need a few flights of literary escapism in between to cool the palate. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (41 of 57), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Thursday, February 20, 2003 10:27 AM Bringing up AFFLICTION seems appropriate; sins of the father and all that. What Bob really needed, more than anything, was a worthwhile roadmap. His father labored at his job, and looked miserable to death. His brother moved to Florida and hit the big time. His best friend moved to Florida and hit the big time. Is it any wonder Bob mistook the place for the problem? And Peggy, there is no question that "he was in a stew of his own making," but the mere fact doesn't make me withhold compassion! What is a fair toll for a bad decision? I've certainly made bad decisions, selfish decisions, whatever. And the fact that Bob focused on himself rather than his family didn't even seem odd to me. It just seemed typical of a man in his position. Had he achieved some level of happiness and comfort, and continued to focus on himself, I'd have found that tedious. But I can't be surprised by that fact that a profoundly unhappy person is self involved. Tonya
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (42 of 57), Read 30 times Conf: Reading List From: Peggy Ramsey ashputtle@comcast.com Date: Thursday, February 20, 2003 12:47 PM Tonya I'll have to reread my post - I didn't mean to imply that Bob did not deserve compassion. I did feel sorry for him, especially when his life veered perilously close to my own. I just didn't want to absolve him of blame because "society" put him in that position - it didn't. I'd love to be able to blame the fact that I can't afford a convertible this summer like I had planned on "society" -- darn it, it's Ford Motor Company's fault I can't have a Mustang, they shouldn't make all those commercials showing beautiful people having fun in the sunshine. But I know it's my own famously bad career decisions and complete lack of money management skills that will force me settle for a sunroof.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (43 of 57), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, February 21, 2003 07:04 AM I think Bob is pretty aware stuff is his fault. I just think that in our culture we are inundated with so much advertising and push to spend, that nothing validates the life of the ordinary guy. Everything he sees around him suggests he is a failure. Unless he is unusually unaffected by billboards, commercials, all the visuals of everyday life (that even if you don't watch TV, you're inundated with) he will think that something's wrong with his meager life. The culture is such that corporations want to make a lot of money, so they don't pay their lowest wage-earners very much. Then they push their products by all this advertising and bending of reality. So those very workers are enticed to spend what they don't have. (I sense I'm going off on a tangent here). Anyway, as Dale pointed out, the Haitians had their religion to bolster their inner lives. Bob, in the end really seemed to see that and wanted something from them. He had no inner peace or guide. I'm not a fan of organized religion, but it might have been a good idea for Bob. Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (44 of 57), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Friday, February 21, 2003 03:27 PM Augh! I put a hold on "Continental Drift" with our library almost a month ago, and have been checking the library website frequently, following the path of my "hold." I see today that it has arrived at my branch library (wasn't logged in when I checked yesterday), but because of funding cuts, the library is closed today! Oh, the pain! Hope the discussion is still going on when I've been able to read the book! Mary Ellen, thinking the "drifting" snow in NYC slowed down the library transit system...
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (45 of 57), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Friday, February 21, 2003 10:15 PM Hi, Mary Ellen: Something tells me we'll still be here. I look forward to your joining in. Speaking of the emotional pressures of the consumer culture re: Bob Dubois, though...I just ran across a piece that expresses the idea much better than I can. It's an essay in the March issue of Harper's by novelist and art critic John Berger (not to be confused with Thomas Berger, author of Little Big Man), titled "Where Are We?" Very heavy stuff, and much food for thought, I believe... *** Everyone knows that pain is endemic to life, and wants to forget this or relativize it. All the variants of the myth of a Fall from the Golden Age, before pain existed, are an attempt to relativize the pain suffered on earth. So too is the invention of Hell, the adjacent kingdom of pain-as-punishment. Likewise the discovery of Sacrifice. And later, much later, the principle of Forgiveness. One could argue that philosophy began with the question: Why pain? Yet, when all this has been said, the present pain of living in the world is perhaps in some ways unprecedented. Consumerist ideology, which has become the most powerful and invasive on the planet, sets out to persuade us that pain is an accident, something that we can insure against. This is the logical basis for the ideology's pitilessness... >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (46 of 57), Read 12 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 12:25 AM Mary Ellen, I'm sure we'll still be discussing this one for awhile. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. All the while I was reading this book, I felt like I was watching a race that had no finish line. It was just run, run, run...follow that carrot being dangled in front of your nose. Or, even better, like watching a lemming running toward the cliffs. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (47 of 57), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 12:36 AM I have to admit, I felt very little compassion for Bob. I did when he first got to Florida and I realized he was going to be nothing more that an underpaid flunky for his brother. I felt bad that his life took such a poor turn, but from that point on, I thought he was a scum bag. My feelings had nothing to do with how much he had or how much he wanted, or anything like that. There are as many poor scum bags as there are rich ones. He just happened to be a poor scum bag. I did feel bad for his wife and children, though. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (48 of 57), Read 12 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 01:29 AM I don't think it was the author's intention that we feel he was a scumbag. And I didn't feel that way. I thought he was just clueless. I knew he was heading for that cliff, and I knew most of it was his own damn fault, but I kept reading and reading and hoping and hoping even though it got more and more obvious it all had to end badly. How could you keep reading this, Beej, if your sympathies weren't with him just a bit? Why would you want to be involved? Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (49 of 57), Read 14 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 07:20 AM Dale, that's profound (to use an unprofound phrase). The idea that pain is a part of life and that our culture has us believe that pain is unnatural (mostly so it can sell us stuff) is so simple it's pure genius. There was a line in "The Sopranos" that ties in here. The one-legged Russian woman was talking to Tony after they had had a round of sex on the sofa. She said something like this "There is a difference between Americans and the rest of the world. Americans are spoiled. They expect everything in life to be good and are surprised and pissed off if things go wrong. The rest of the world expects things to go wrong. So we have the advantage." Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (50 of 57), Read 10 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 01:45 PM Ruth, my sympathies were with him in the beginning and with his family, particularly the kids, throughout. But even had they not been, I don't necessarily need to be sympathetic toward characters, or even like them at all, in order to become completely involved in a novel. Bob did disgust me, but nevertheless, the book fired up a real emotional response in me. Some of the most despicable characters in literature happen to also be my favorite characters in literature . Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (51 of 57), Read 10 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 02:00 PM As I read these notes during the past week, I felt like my reactions to Bob differed profoundly from what people were expressing because I felt a lot of compassion for him. However, I couldn't put my finger on exactly why so I postponed writing a note. Now that I've read Tonya and Dale's notes, I think they've sort of said it for me. I kept thinking how easily all of these horrendous mistakes could happen to anyone and how much of a factor luck is in life. Once the bad decisions are made, it has a snowball effect sometimes and Bob's life looked like a snowball going down a very steep hill out of control. Since I made some very stupid choices early in my life and (through sheer luck, a good education and a family that taught me a lot of good basic values) survived them. I don't think Bob had access to any of those things I put in parentheses. Obviously, people succeed with a lot more in their way than Bob had, but a lot of them don't and I'm not surprised at all. The whole discussion about media driven consumerism reminded me of the time when Tom was in law school. We had no money and were living off our credit cards (always a huge mistake). The collection people for the credit card companies would call us weekly leaving me feeling like dirt. But, every night on television, those same credit card companies would encourage me to put more and more on the cards and dangle things in my face that I shouldn't buy. It made no rational sense but I wanted to throw a rock through the TV set. Now, I knew it was our responsibility, not theirs, but it still fostered an incredible amount of humiliation and resentment. And, I knew that we would dig our way out eventually when Tom got his law degree. I can't imagine feeling like that with no light at the end of the tunnel. Also, it occurred to me that 10 years later, Bob and his brother might have been in college on hockey scholarships and/or playing in the NHL. What a difference that little bit of luck might have made! Barb
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (52 of 57), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 02:03 PM To lay it all out on the line, I lost whatever sympathy I had for him when he was having such a rowdy sexual experience with that woman while his wife was giving birth. I could care less if she delivered early. That just totally disgusted me. Usually I am not this hardhearted toward human mistakes. In fact, I roundly enjoy delving into the 'whys' of human behavior, whether it be in fiction or reality. But I would be less than honest to say I felt sympathetic when I didn't. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (53 of 57), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 02:05 PM Not to excuse him, but he didn't KNOW she was giving birth. Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (54 of 57), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 02:08 PM You're right. That doesn't excuse him. What should we say? It wasn't his fault his son came early while he happened to be amusing himself? It was all a matter of his rotten luck? My sympathies lie with his family who were the victims of this man's awful choices. I will say I felt a lot of compassion for all of them while they struggled for some sort of financial footing, but that's as far as my sympathies go for this man. Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (55 of 57), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 02:33 PM If this man were a real life acquaintance, and knowing all that we know about him, would you still say he was only a victim of a consumerism society? Beej
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (56 of 57), Read 8 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 02:59 PM I don't think he is only a victim of a consumer society, just that it was one of the factors. I think I probably do know a few Bobs actually though their situations look a lot less dramatic on the surface. I usually get the feeling that they've been making a whole bunch of bad choices and the people around them are suffering for those choices as well. Barb
Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, February 22, 2003 03:21 PM No, it doesn't excuse him. But it doesn't make his sin any worse, is what I was trying to say. He was a victim, but he participated in his own victimhood, just by being such a clueless goof. Ruth
From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 01:54 PM I'm just over half-way through the book (Claude just killed Vanise's captor in the Bahamas, Bob has quit his job with Eddie & Avery has proposed that Bob work with him). I find it riveting and can't resist jumping in to talk about clueless Bob. I find Bob a sympathetic character, even though he did some terrible things (cheating on his wife while she was in labor was bad enough; did anyone else find it disturbing that he killed the robber by shooting him in the back while the robber was trying to get away?). Bob is such a hapless character, I pity him despite his self-absorption. Banks clearly condemns the rampant consumerism of our culture for tormenting folks who can't afford all the baubles it dangles before them. I think he also condemns our culture because its offerings are so superficial. Bob exemplifies this; his inner life is so empty; he is rudderless--adrift! Banks expresses this in the aftermath of the incident in which Bob, thinking he was alone, walked into his bedroom to find his sister-in-law naked. He hurried from the bedroom and sat downstairs, resisting the invitation he heard in the lilt of her voice as she called after him. Banks describes Bob's reflections on this incident: "He still can't decide whether his decision to sit in his chair in the living room until Sarah was dressed and cheerfully downstairs was the right decision, for, like most people, Bob finds it difficult to know right from wrong. He relies on taboos and circumstances to control his behavior, to make him a 'good man,' so that on those infrequent occasions when neither taboo nor circumstance prohibits him from satisfying an appetite and he does not satisfy that appetite or even attempt to do so, he does not know what to think of himself. He doesn't know if he has been a good man or merely a stupid or scared man. Most people, like Bob, unchurched since childhood, now and then reach that point of not knowing whether they've been good, stupid or scared, . . ." If I'm reading Banks right, it seems that Banks agrees with Sherry that organized religion might have been good for Bob, might have provided him with that moral compass he lacks. Thus far, I appreciate the narrator's intrusions into the story. They tie Bob and Vanise's story into a bigger picture in a way I might not have done on my own. (In CC, I've confessed to being a big George Eliot fan, and she certainly intrudes on her stories with commentary in a big, big way!) Mary Ellen
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (59 of 71), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 03:15 PM Mary Ellen: That inner dialogue of Bob's that you quote, following the naked sister-in-law incident, really resonated for me too. He relies on taboos and circumstances to control his behavior, to make him a 'good man,' so that on those infrequent occasions when neither taboo nor circumstance prohibits him from satisfying an appetite and he does not satisfy that appetite or even attempt to do so, he does not know what to think of himself. He doesn't know if he has been a good man or merely a stupid or scared man. It hit uncomfortably close to home, for me. I think most of us are controlled more by "taboos and circumstances," as opposed to moral compass, than we like to think we are. I have a lot of personal hostility toward organized religion, but I also think about the philosopher who argued, "If there is no God, then everything is permitted." I've known a lot of people over the years who constantly flaunted their rectitude and supposed morality when in truth, as Bob puts it, they were largely "either stupid or scared." The middle ground between moral compass and taboo/superstition is a thorny, thorny place for folks who are honest with themselves, I believe. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (60 of 71), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 04:58 PM Great notes, Mary Ellen and Dale. Yep, if we're honest enough to admit it, the fear of being caught, or the guilt at going against the "rules" is what keeps us on the straight and narrow. Bob had no personal compass. Perhaps he could have used one imposed from the outside, but would that have been necessarily a good thing? Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (61 of 71), Read 30 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 05:45 PM I think it might have been a very useful thing in Bob's case. I think I'm a pretty moral person, even though that morality isn't based on organized religion (or at least now it isn't -- I sure got enough of it as a child), but Bob almost seemed like a kind of sociopath. I just looked up "sociopath definition" in Google and came up with this on: "not learning from experience no sense of responsibility inability to form meaningful relationships inability to control impulses lack of moral sense chronically antisocial behavior no change in behavior after punishment emotional immaturity lack of guilt self-centeredness." As far as I could tell, Bob had all these symptoms except maybe "lack of guilt" and "chronically antisocial behavior." Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (62 of 71), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 06:08 PM Unlike others, I didn't come away with the impression that the religion of the Haitians was very helpful. Pretty dark and violent. What would happen if Bob did acquire religion and it was not helpful at all? Suppose he decided to follow Bob Jones and developed a taste for Koolaid? Or decided to fly into buildings? Because Bob had no internal compass of his own, he'd be a sitting duck for whatever came by. Ruth
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (63 of 71), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 06:53 PM True, Bob would be "a sitting duck for whatever came by." Though I haven't come to the book's end yet, I know from the first pages that Bob is not long for this world. So I suspect it will turn out that Bob WAS a sitting duck, and things did turn out badly for him. Does anything in CD explain why Bob is lacking in inner moral compass, good judgment, etc.? Did he have bad genes? Was he a bad person? Was it a societal problem--the emphasis on getting "stuff" supplanting development of the ability to make decisions, to decide for oneself whether a decision is "good" or "bad"? Or is the drifting inevitable, inescapable, like the shifting of those tectonic plates? Mary Ellen
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (64 of 71), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 10:02 PM Sherry, I liked those definitions. I felt that Bob was very self-indulgent, particularly when it came to his affairs. He was thinking of only himself and his so-called needs. As you can tell, I don't have much sympathy for him. On the other hand, I had lots of sympathy for Vanise and Claude. I could hardly stand reading those rape scenes. Was this better than staying in Haiti? Jane
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (65 of 71), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, February 27, 2003 06:50 AM Jane, their life in Haiti wasn't fully explained, but my sense is that for her to think that the rapes were "normal," Haiti must have been similar. At least she had food, which was obviously not true in Haiti. It was heartbreaking. And, Ruth, no, I don't think their religion really helped them, but they thought it did. It was something. They had nothing, and the religion somehow explained it to them. I imagine a violent religion will come out of a violent place. Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (66 of 71), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, February 27, 2003 12:43 PM I thought that Bob did have some underlying moral structure but not enough. He didn't want to shoot the black kid who held him up initially. Eventually he was angry because the kid was the one who wanted to kill him. Bob's brother was the one who really seemed to have no morality. I kept thinking that there must've been nothing forthcoming from their parents on these issues. We were told about the Dad, but I don't remember much about the mother. I am about 99% an atheist, but I was taken to church as a child so I can't totally write off religion as an influence on my actions. My children were raised without church except for a period of about a year when I took them because I felt like I was making the decision for them if I didn't expose them to it. However, they were largely raised without that rudder and I think they have an infinitely better idea of right/wrong than Bob did. I'm not sure that Banks made a good case for Bob's floundering in this area. Blaming it all on our consumer society and lack of a religious base just doesn't seem to be enough for me. I can definitely believe the run of bad decisions and disastrous results. However, his bewilderment in moral areas is tougher for me. Barb
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (67 of 71), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, February 27, 2003 08:52 PM At the risk of digressing a bit, I just have to pass along this joke I recently received via e-mail...if only because I think Bob Dubois would identify with the "moral compass" of its subject. See what you folks think: Dear Abby: I am a guy, age 25, and I have been engaged for almost a year. I am to be married next month. My fiancée's mother is not only very attractive but really great and understanding. She is putting the entire wedding together and last week she invited me to her place to go over the invitation list because it had grown a bit beyond what we had expected it to be. When I got to her house we reviewed the list and trimmed it down to just under a hundred...then she floored me. She said that in a month I would be a married man and that before that happened, she wanted to have sex with me. Then she just stood up and walked toward her bedroom, and on her way said that I knew where the front door was if I wanted to leave. I stood there for about five minutes and finally decided that I knew exactly how to deal with this situation. I headed straight out the front door...There, leaning against my car was her husband, my father-in-law to be. He was smiling. He explained that they just wanted to be sure I was a good kid and would be true to their little girl. I shook his hand and he congratulated me on passing their test. Abby, should I tell my fiancée what her parents did, and that I thought their little "test" was asinine and insulting to my character? Or should I keep the whole thing to myself...including the fact that the reason I was walking out to my car was to get a condom? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (68 of 71), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, February 28, 2003 07:09 AM Dale, you sure Banks didn't write that joke? It sure sounds about right. Sherry
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (69 of 71), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Friday, February 28, 2003 09:22 AM Very cute joke, Dale! I've been thinking more about why Bob lacked a more solid moral compass, and come up just about empty. Really all that occurs to me is the Jeff Goldblum line from THE BIG CHILL, something to the effect of "have you ever gone a whole day without a justification?" He was a prince of justification, after all. It didn't matter that he and Delores met regularly for sex, because Delores didn't threaten his feelings for his wife at all. Remember that after the son was born, he ended that affair, which had been affecting his conscience. After his breakdown, he thought he needed the things he wanted so much that he could justify almost anything, but he always had a line somewhere. After all, he undertook his illegal Haitian run to pay for his daughter's therapy. And he still refused to get involved in drug running. As much as anything, he just seemed to be a big chump who couldn't tell the difference between the people who loved him and the ones who didn't. Tonya
Topic: Continental Drift, by Russell Banks (70 of 71), Read 12 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Friday, February 28, 2003 12:52 PM Excellent points, Tonya. I did have the sense that he tried to draw his own moral lines but they tended to drift. He seemed to be in a state of panic from the beginning of the book to the end. Barb
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, February 28, 2003 01:11 PM In his position, certainly after he made the first big mistake, I'd be in a state of panic, too. Ruth
From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, March 02, 2003 09:40 PM Tonya, Bob refused to do any drug running, but I am not sure that he would not have eventually tried it if he saw that Avery had made big bucks doing it. I think that the only reason that he didn't drop down a few more notches on the scale of what was morally correct to do is that he was dead. Jane
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Sunday, March 02, 2003 09:50 PM Well actually he DID seem to believe that Avery made big bucks doing it, but I do agree with your larger point, that it was not outside his moral character. Part of my point was that it was a moveable line, depending on his situation and what he thought he needed. Tonya
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Sunday, March 02, 2003 10:36 PM Jane: Your comments about Bob's demise remind me of my favorite short-story title from Flannery O'Connor... "You Can't Be Any Poorer Than Dead" >>Dale in Ala.
From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Monday, March 03, 2003 12:48 PM What do you all make of Banks' epilogue? As I read it, I found it very powerful, but now I'm thinking that if this expresses Banks' intent as an author, maybe he did not succeed (at least with the CR crowd!). It begins: "And so ends the story of Robert Raymond Dubois, a decent man . . ." Are we supposed to take that at face value? At many points in the story, I did not think Bob was behaving like a "decent" man. On the other hand, his final actions, misguided and foolish and a bit blind, were a desperate search for redemption, and perhaps that is decency enough. Banks' final words: "Knowledge of the facts of Bob's life and death changes nothing in the world. Our celebrating his life and grieving over his death, however, will. Good cheer and mournfulness over lives other than our own, even wholly invented lives -- no, especially wholly invented lives -- deprive the world as it is of some of the greed it needs to continue to be itself. Sabotage and subversion, then, are this book's objectives. Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is." This sounds beautiful, but I'm not sure I buy it. What, exactly, in Bob's life should we be celebrating? I did mourn for the waste of so many lives in this book (the horrible picture of the Haitians jumping into the sea at gunpoint brought back the horrible scene from "Amistad" in which sickly slaves are chained together and thrown overboard), but I don't see how that mourning, in itself, "deprives the world of some of the greed it needs to continue to be itself," or even how it deprives me of some of my personal greed. I believe the written word can be subversive, but I'm not sure these words are. (And, by the way, what about Vanise and her baby? What about Claude? Why aren't we mourning them?) Mary Ellen
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 07:26 AM Mary Ellen, when I read the epilogue, like you, I thought it was powerful. I had to think about your note for a while before responding. Banks' idea that getting the world to mourn a fictional character will in some way redeem the world, is a good thought--a grand thought, but not likely to work on a large scale. For one reason, the people who need to read the book won't, and the people who read the book are probably the ones who already have the kind of sensibility that doesn't need to be changed. But I keep remembering that it changed Dale's view of the world. Will it make a difference? Will the incremental change of people's sense of things make any geologic change. Well maybe so. Maybe Banks is talking about geologic change and that little drop of water in the cave that becomes a pyramid of stone. So maybe I've changed my mind. Sherry
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 10:42 AM As things worked out I was distracted from this discussion but certainly not from reading the book. I had sections which hit me with more impact than others but much of my thinking got lost in the intervening weeks. BUT having said that -- I overwhelmingly saw this book as being about the fact that humanity and the way in which people interact and mesh and separate and move across the world is exactly like the continental drift of the title -- it is so microscopic that it is not noticeable and when viewed from the standpoint of those involved can seem non-existent -- hopeless -- impossible. But we/they keep moving just the same and in a hundred years there will be differences in the composition of the face of society -- all of them. In another hundred -- more changes. A little like that homily about the weaving of one's life -- we see one pattern but the creator sees another. The long view. I also found myself responding with reference to some of the essays I'd read last fall in the Chatwin book -- some of the nomadic hunter-gatherer vs. farmer-settler talk which surfaces here periodically. This nomadic thing is present in all of us -- the grass is greener elsewhere thing and oh boy did that factor into Bob and his brother and Ave and even the Haitians on the move. I've thoroughly enjoyed everyone's input here and was especially glad to see Dale here for this one -- and Dean, I would add my own appreciation for your posts on this. Mary Ellen and Sherry -- for me the epilogue was a way of saying that whatever influences even one person to change has some effect -- again, it may go unnoticed like the continental drift but it is still happening. Dottie "It all depends ...."
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 05:16 PM Really excellent note, Dottie. I've been puzzling about this tie-in with the title ever since finishing the book. I thought I had a vague idea of what he was getting at, but you just nailed it. And, Sherry and Mary Ellen, when I read the epilogue, I remember thinking that Banks was very idealistic for the same reasons that Sherry cites. However, if 1 out of 100 of the people who read it finds that it changes their understanding of humanity, like Dale, it is probably worth it. Barb
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 06:09 PM Another thought tied to the title, Barb, just as major shifts in the continents when the plates shift -- earthquakes, volcanic activity and so on cause major and sudden changes and shifts in populations from time to time -- so, too these major changes are visible within populations for other reasons -- economic, famine, pandemics which cause populations to pick up and move away from those who are dying. Those "bursts" are as noticeable as are the disruptions of the natural phenomena and more noticeable than the continuous dribbles and rivulets such as the Haitians in the book or the Mexicans who continue to make their way across the border -- another story hovering behind my reading here was Boyle's Tortilla Curtain which I think Dale may also have mentioned relative to this discussion. And look at the story in House of Sand and Fog which has revived in CR Conference. There are connections here, perhaps? Dottie
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 12:29 PM But, how would the bursts tie in with this story, Dottie? Do you mean as a comparison? Barb
From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 09:57 PM Mary Ellen, I really enjoyed your note about the conclusion. I found the conclusion to be interesting but a bit too preachy for my taste. I didn't find much that was decent in Bob either. His whole attitude towards his wife and family bothered me throughout the book. I wanted to know more about Claude and Vanise than I did about Bob. Jane
From: R Bavetta Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 10:28 PM Isn't that strange? I was much more interested in Bob than in C&V. Their sections were where I had to fight against skimming. Lost the battle in the Haitian voodoo scenes. Yawn. Just goes to show, doesn't it? Ruth
From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:28 AM I guess I found Claude and Vanise more sympathetic than Bob, and their sufferings a little more the result of "forces beyond their control" than Bob's. I felt the "preachy"--even grandiose--aspects of the conclusion would be more appropriate if directed toward our weeping over them, not over a man who made a string of bad, self- absorbed choices (except maybe the last, spectacularly foolish, choice). Mary Ellen
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:39 AM I wish I had the book with me, but it's gone back to the library. I'm wondering if I failed to engage with C & V because the writing in that section was different. With Bob, Banks was writing from a culture much more familiar to him than that of the Haitians. It could have made a subtle difference in the writing. I know I felt distanced from them. Ruth
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 03:11 PM I saw a difference, also. When he writes about Bob the narration speaks more of Bob's internal struggles. The passages about Vanise & Claude were strictly external. As if to say that the only problems Bob had were internal to himself and the troubles of Vanise and Claude arose from their external situation of poverty and corruption. The books beginning reminded me a bit Homer's invocation of the Muse. It gave me the feeling that every person's life is an epic. The ending, however, left me a bit puzzled because I didn't see the novel as being about greed or as a remedy to greed but about discontent and hope, desperation and despair. The author wants us to think that Bob has some morality. He portrays Bob as a man who is aware of the wrong that he does but he makes no effort to stop doing wrong. Bob permits himself what he considers "little" wrongs. Eventually his morality gets eroded to a point where he finds himself irredeemable. In the meeting with Ted Williams, Bob realizes that he and many others are just children playing at being adults. Like a child, Bob put his trust in the hands of others expecting that they were going to take care of him; that they were going to act in his best interests. What he gets is disappointment and desperation. In desperation, he places himself in a position where his morality is tested. His character never having been exercised in the little things is swamped when faced with the determination of the Jamaican. Like a child he tries to deny and avoid what he has done. In the end he has to accept responsibility for what he did but he thinks that he can make amends. He tries but there can be no amends. He has grown up too late. There is no "do-over" any more. He is irredeemable and I think that this realization is what kills him. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 08:30 PM Very good analysis, Dean. I think you're spot on. Ruth
Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:44 AM Actually, I thought their lives, at least during the arc of Continental Drift, were remarkably similar. Claude stole the ham, so they had to leave. Bob had a nervous breakdown, so they had to leave. At the first stopping place, Claude and Vanise ran into the drunken farmer, who virtually enslaved them for his own gain; Bob was under the spell of his brother, who virtually enslaved him for his own gain. At the second stop, Vanise was imprisoned by the bar owner and Claude was enslaved by the marijuana grower, men who took all the money that they earned. Bob's money was taken outright by Avery, who lied when he "sold" part ownership of the boat. The third stop, well you know, it led to the deaths of Claude and Bob. So, I wonder if we read this with a bias against Bob, because we just think Americans should be savvier than that? I was certainly frustrated with Bob, but I was frustrated that Vanise didn't go out the window, too. They both had the irksome tendency of putting themselves in another persons hands, and just resting. Tonya
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:03 PM Thanks, Ruth. I think that notes got a bit crossed. Tonya posted her note ahead of mine but it appears after. At any rate, Tonya, you draw attention to some interesting parallels. I think that mine (#85) and yours (#87) complement each other very well. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Monday, March 10, 2003 01:26 PM I don't think we are biased against Bob, but rather appreciating the differences in the forces working on Claude (largely external to him) and Bob (root cause, his own greed), as well as their ages. Claude is forced to leave his home and engages in a struggle for food. Bob chooses to leave what several others have noted was a pretty comfortable existence, because he wants an undefined more, thinks that his wanting means he will get it, and is duped by others in pursuit of it. Bob's persistent childishness is pitiable, but I think it is fair to have more sympathy for Claude who is still chronologically a child. I think one of the saddest things in the book was the fact that, when Claude jumped from the boat--going first in an effort, it seemed to me, to give courage to the others--he did not even try to swim or fight the waves. He just sank to the bottom. Mary Ellen
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Monday, March 10, 2003 01:43 PM I think we are losing sight here of the similarities between the Bob and Elaine types in our own society -- blessed with brothers and friends like Eddy and Ave and the Claude and Vanisse set who flow ever onward from poverty in whatever land toward the dream -- forget that AMERICAN prefix for just a little while -- America -- the United States -- is NOT the only land on earth to which these people flow. It just happens that in this book it is what is used. But these are the people who are at the edge of any society -- those who can't stay where they are for whatever reason -- Claude's theft put all in danger and so he and the two others were sent on. How many others who come into our country or into other countries seeking a better life have such a circumstance -- that if they go backward, they are likely to be imprisoned and/or die? Many. And what about the Bobs of our own society? They want what others seem to get with such ease while they struggle and can't manage simple things -- such as the skates. They don't want to be richer just to be richer necessarily -- yes, this one had things good but he barely did -- the things he had maybe were really beyond his reach and he should have been taking care of basics first perhaps. But we all know them -- we've all encountered them -- lived with them. It's just doing better, doing more, not staying put, not settling for what is or for less. Is it really we/us or they/them? No. There are Claudes and Vanisses in our society also -- those who do what they do in order to get food -- in order to survive. And then there are the Bobs and Elaines in the Haitian society who were at the level just above Claude and Vanisse -- the ones who would have turned them in to save their own skins. Humans to humans -- man's inhumanity to man -- or his compassion for his brother being. Isn't that more what CD is about? Dottie "No one's being excludes every possibility." Cloud of Sparrows, Takashi Matsuoka
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Monday, March 10, 2003 04:19 PM Dottie, I agree. After allowing us to witness the journeys of the families of Bob and Claude, it seems to me simplistic to attribute their fates to greed. What you describe is closer to the subtleties which arise from the comparison of their respective situations. It is also good that you mention that America is but one of many destinations for those looking to improve their lives. We have Albanians trying to get into Italy; Algerians going to France; Turks moving to Germany; Indians going to the UK; Chinese trying to enter Canada, etc. Here's another thing which has been on my mind. On p.39 in Batterie Maconnique, he says: "The universe moves, and everything in it moves, and transforms its parts, it and everything in it down to the smallest cell are transformed and continue. ... To continue, just to go on with entropy out there, takes an old-fashioned, Biblical kind of heroism. What bothers me is that the latter statement contradicts the former. Entropy is not an oppressive force which life must strive to overcome. What gives rise to entropy is the movement of everything in the universe which he mentions in the 1st sentence. Rather than being opposed to life, the existence of entropy is a condition for the existence of life. He says it himself, because of the movement "... everything in [the universe is] transformed and CONTINUE[S]." This continuation is life. Entropy is merely the measure of the movement without which there would be no life. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, March 10, 2003 08:11 PM Beautiful note, Dottie. Very well said: And then there are the Bobs and Elaines in the Haitian society who were at the level just above Claude and Vanisse -- the ones who would have turned them in to save their own skins... I'll get on my soapbox just long enough to reprise my "sermon" of recent years, as it applies to this story: it benefits people in power when citizens view mistreatment of one another through the lens of racism, or sexism, or anti-Semitism, etc., because those arbitrary divisions distract us from the fact that there's only one real struggle in the world, and has always been. That's the struggle between the powerful and the weak. I recently caught the tail-end of a debate between political commentators on CNN, in which the Democrat asked what was going to become, in the current climate, of the people without health insurance. The Republican responded something to the effect of, "You liberals are always preoccupied with losers." I'm not surprised by the sentiment, but am still rattled that there are apparently no repercussions nowadays for expressing that class hatred so openly. >>Dale in Ala.
From: R Bavetta Date: Monday, March 10, 2003 10:39 PM Dale, you've mentioned more than once that this was a life-changing book for you. Would you feel comfortable elaborating on that, at least in a general way? I surely don't want to pry, but I'm interested in what you found so soul-shaking about CD. Ruth
Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2003 12:37 AM Barb -- I just now by back-tracking a bit saw your question about the bursts I mentioned. After I wrote that I thought it didn't really fit or that I wasn't explaining it or maybe hadn't let the thought gel quite enough. I was thinking about the actual drift of the continents being responsible for such things as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and thus the tsunamis and tidal waves and all of those in turn effect a "burst" of movement within the population groups that are in the path of these natural "shifts." But I think I still need a bit of refinement on that relative to this book. It's just where my thoughts wandered. Dean wrote: Here's another thing which has been on my mind. On p.39 in Batterie Maconnique, he says: "The universe moves, and everything in it moves, and transforms its parts, it and everything in it down to the smallest cell are transformed and continue. ... To continue, just to go on with entropy out there, takes an old-fashioned, Biblical kind of heroism. Dean -- your questioning of this led me to think of another of my own touchstone books, Capra's The Turning Point and the idea of life as sets, subsets, interrelationships, always continuing, changing, shifting. Out of the combination of the quote and your questions and my somewhat fuzzy recall of the detail of Capra -- I came out with the thought that the idea of life as ongoing in this way frightens those who cannot make the intellectual move to a creation created to such 'eternity' and still hold to their own ideas through whatever religion they do or do not hold of what becomes of themselves. I'm not making a very clear statement there. Maybe I'll do better after I mull it over a bit more. Dale, do I remember rightly that you also read the Capra book? If so maybe you can shed some light on what I'm getting at here. I agree with Ruth that if you could elaborate on the effect of CD that it might be of interest -- for myself, I find I'm making that connection to TTP which for me forever altered the way I view so much of life. The idea of continental drift being an equivalent/mirror to the drift of humankind seems perfectly fitted to many of the ideas in TTP. And thanks to both of you, Dean and Dale, for your kind words here. Dottie "No one's being excludes every possibility." Cloud of Sparrows, Takashi Matsuoka
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2003 07:41 PM Ruth: For me, the newspaper article at the end of CONTINENTAL DRIFT, about the horrific drownings, was the kind of wire-news story that we all read every day and ask ourselves, "How could something like this happen?" We ask it sort of hypocritically, I think, because we really don't want to know. The details almost always clash with our comfortable views about "good guys" and "bad guys" and how the world works. The beauty of Banks's novel, I think, is that it answers the "How could...?" question in amazing and painful detail, and shows us how a tragedy of that magnitude can grow from an ordinary person making a series of bad decisions by rationalizing his/her actions. And seeing as I'm an ordinary person, frequent bad-decision maker, and gifted self-rationalizer, it brought home the cliched notion of "There but for the grace of God go I" as nothing else had, up to that time, and in a way that I still bring to every newspaper headline I read. The only way Banks made this uncomfortable story palatable to me was his use of beautiful language and some profound insights. Though he doesn't take the level of stylistic risk that, say, Cormac McCarthy does, I still think of the two together because they both apply beautiful writing to horrible happenings, much like a guided tour of hell narrated by an angel. Dottie: It's been so long since I read Capra's TURNING POINT that I can't elaborate on its connection to the idea of continental drift, but I do remember Capra shaking up my ideas at the time and making some very profound, pardon the expression, points. It's definitely time for me to re-read that one. >>Dale in Ala.

 
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