Continental Drift is structured as a braided novel, where two stories alternate until their final collision. Over his career, Russell Banks has written a series of novels that attempt to describe America through careful, close looks at a variety of its challenges. He explores race relations (in Cloudsplitter, 1998), class relations (in The Sweet Hereafter, 1991, and the short-story collection Trailerpark, 1981), violence (in Affliction, 1989), and homelessness (in Rule of the Bone, 1995). In Continental Drift, questions of personal responsibility and the fantasy of the American Dream contribute to the power of the book.
The geological concept of continental drift is used in the book as an explanation for large-scale human behavior. The novel uses an overt first-person narrator to compare events such as the human migrations in Ethiopia and Somalia to the constant motion in the physical world—the shifting tectonic plates of continental drift, the endlessly moving currents of the ocean, and the swirl and change of the weather. If these events are natural and inevitable, then their real-world consequences—such as death and economic exploitation—cannot be helped, either.
Continental Drift also examines life on a micro level, describing what happens to the characters in their personal lives. Throughout the book, Vanise is exploited. When she is in her home village, the men of the family have left for the United States, so she has no protection from the chief of police, who abuses her sexually, becoming the father of Charles. The police chief does not help Varise or their son materially, but he does keep an eye on his son until they leave. Vanise is abused physically; she is not merely raped but...
(The entire section is 736 words.)