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Driftless (Rhodes) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. The prologue describes the geography of the region in which Driftless takes place, and the novel’s title is taken from the name of the area. How does the Driftless Region, which Rhodes describes as “singularly its hilly, primitive form,” influence the events of the book?

2. Words, Wisconsin, is a tiny town, not even located on maps of the region. How important is the rural setting of Driftless? How would the book be different if it were set in a city, or even in nearby Grange?

3. In many ways, Driftless seems to be a novel of oppositions—between the dairy corporation and the farmers, the Amish and the other residents, or a caregiver and a caretaker. What are some of the other oppositions in the book?

4. When July first arrives on the outskirts of Words, he observes that “the dead forever change the living.” How does this assertion relate to July’s experience? Is a statement like this more true in a small town like Words?

5. During Winnie’s epiphany, she realizes that “boundaries did not exist. Where she left off and something else began could not be established.” Is this notion and/or experience of unity displayed elsewhere in the book?

6. Early in the book, Winnie is told that “religion is irrelevant to the modern world.” Do you agree? In this book, is religion a source for wisdom, naïveté, or a combination of the two?

7. Both Winnie and Gail are described as being “chosen”—Winnie through her epiphany; Gail because of the song she writes. What does the parallel between these two characters tell you about them? Are there other characters who are similarly paired?

8. Driftless is a collection of stories from many different characters. Do you think any one of the characters is particularly important or central? What is the effect of having many speakers narrate the story?

9. Grahm is forced to trust Cora’s instincts when they lose their children in the snowstorm. In what way does that decision influence the rest of their story? Are there other characters who must trust in something beyond their control?

10. Words is described as a town “attached more firmly to the past than to the present.” Some of the inhabitants of Words do seem firmly rooted in their history, but many of them also seem to be escaping their past. What role does the past play in Driftless?

11. Words, Wisconsin, is said to be named for Elias Words, the explorer who founded the town. Yet the name Words may also be metaphorical. What role does language play in the book? Which characters are good with words, and which are not? How does this affect their stories?

12. Rusty’s attitudes toward the Amish seem out of line with his own neighbors’ attitudes. Are his concerns justified? If Rusty’s attitude has changed by the end of the novel, to what would you attribute that change?

13. In this book, corporations seem to be corrupt, and the government is little help. The most radical response to this problem is Moe Ridge’s militia. His speech at the end of the book convinces some, but not all, of the characters to join his cause. What do you think of Moe?

14. The cougar July spots at the beginning of the book is an unfamiliar presence to the residents of Words. Are there other external forces facing Words? What do you think the future holds for the town?

15. After his death, revelations about July lead some of his friends to suspect that they didn’t really know him, and yet a number of characters considered July a good friend. In retrospect, was July a good friend to the other characters in the novel?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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