CONTINENTAL DRIFT by Russell Banks

CONTINENTAL DRIFT

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In this long, ambitious new novel, Banks brings the New England-style bottled rage of Hamilton Stark (1978) into curious apposition with the voodoo grace and Caribbean inevitability of The Book of Jamaica (1980). Bob DuBois is an oil-burner repairman in Catamount, N.H.; he has a wife, two children, a brother down in Florida (who's raking it in from the liquor business)--and a blinding frustration that finds incomplete release in philandering, drinking, and occasional violence. Eventually, then, Bob ups and moves the family down to Florida, taking a job in one of his brother's liquor stores. And the job results in a heightened race-consciousness: after seeing so few blacks in New Hampshire, Bob now sees them everywhere--to fear (Bob has to use a gun during a botched robbery) and to love (he has an affair with a black woman, Marguerite). Then, when Bob's brother becomes shaky and overweening (thanks to business woes and Mob pressures), Bob tries another line of work--as the low-paid captain of a chartered fishing-boat (run by an old high-school chum) on the Keys. But this involvement brings Bob into contact with drug-smugglers and refugees: Vanise Dorsinville, a young Haitian mother, endures rape, prostitution, robbery, beatings, and more--all in order to get a place on Bob's boat, headed for the US; and she'll be the sole survivor when the Haitians are thrown into the sea at the sighting of a Coast Guard ship. . . in the novel's strongest, ghastliest scene. Throughout, in fact, Banks' prose is pictorial and richly full when dealing with Vanise's ordeals. Some of Bob's interior thoughts, too, are vividly captured. Ultimately, however, this is a preachy and predictable moral lesson on the theme of power-lessness, black or white: Bob is every repressed, unaware, lower-class white male; Vanise is every exploited black female; and Banks brings them together with a grinding determinism that is far from persuasive.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1984
ISBN: 0641878885
Publisher: Harper & Row