Russell Banks’s Continental Drift recounts the unlikely, intertwined destinies of Bob DuBois, who forsakes his dead-end blue-collar job in New Hampshire to start a new life with his family in Florida, and Vanise Dorsinville, who flees poverty and oppression in Haiti with her infant son and adolescent nephew for the promise of freedom in America.
The novel is divided into eleven alternating sections, preceded by an epic-like “Invocation” and concluding with a summarizing “Envoi,” which contrast the stories of Bob’s and Vanise’s migrations south and north, respectively, their lives finally colliding in a shocking twist of events off the coast of southern Florida. Banks’s third-person narrative voice relates realistically the separate travails these two protagonists undergo in their quest for better lives in Florida, though occasionally the narrator assumes a limited omniscience in plumbing the individual psychology of these characters as they reflect upon their very different cultural backgrounds and beliefs.
The sparse, mock-epic-like invocation informs readers that “This is an American story of the late twentieth century, and you don’t need a muse to tell it.” The story begins with a section recounting the present-day situation of Bob DuBois, who has lived all of his life in Catamount, New Hampshire, and since high school and his glory days as an all-state hockey player has been working as an oil-burner repairman for the Abenaki Oil Company. At thirty, with his wife Elaine, his two daughters, Ruthie and Emma, his run-down duplex in a working-class neighborhood, his battered station-wagon, his $22,000 debt to the local bank, and his occasional sexual fling with his mistress Doris Cleeve, DuBois has become disaffected. Feeling trapped by his environment and angry that none of his dreams are likely to be realized, Bob convinces his wife that they should move to Florida, where his brother Eddie claims to be making “a killing.”
In the book’s next section, Banks radically shifts the...
(The entire section is 838 words.)