Yesterday, a fine former student of mine wrote about how much she hated a book she'd just finished--Driftless, by David Rhodes. Fair enough. Not everyone likes everything. Or should.
But let me back up a bit ...
I'd never head of David Rhodes until Christmas Day, 2008. I was reading through the New York Times that day and came across an annual feature they'd been doing for a while--an original Christmas story by a noted writer. In 2008, I didn't recognize the author--David Rhodes. But I read the story, "Wearing Feathers"--and liked it. (Here it is, if you want to read it: Link) It's sort of a light, magical, mystical thing about "the goddess of winter storms," a snow plow, and human relationships.
At the end of the piece, I saw this: David Rhodes is the author of the novel "Rock Island Line" and, most recently, "Driftless."
Hmmm, I thought. I liked the Christmas story so much that I pasted it into an email and sent it to all of my English III students (high school juniors) that day. I also sent them some news about my temporary (two-month) absence from the school, commencing in January. I would be going to the Cleveland Clinic every day for radiation treatments for my prostate cancer.
amazing (so far) novel [that] reads a bit like Millhauser, actually. As I read the books, I took notes, then stuffed them in a file.
(BTW: Just checked--a first printing of The Last Fair Deal is worth nearly $500 now--check it out on abebooks.com.)
I finished the first in two days, then the next. By 17 January I was reading Rock Island Line (1975)--finished it a week later. And by the 26th, it was Driftless, 2008, which I finished on 6 February, about a week before my Clinic treatments terminated. My brief note in my journal says of the novel: mostly great.
When I finished all of his books, I wrote him a fan letter--but that took some doing. He had no published email address at the time, and I had to do some googling to find his mailing address. Which I did. I told him about some connections (loose) that we had--my parents had lived in Iowa for a decade, my older brother had taught at the U of Iowa for a while--at the same time Rhodes was there. And so on. I told him I admired Driftless (which I did) and said I was looking forward to his next book. Oh, and I also (mildly) criticized one scene in Driftless involving a militia guy--adding as a guy who's read all your books, I get to complain about something, don't I?
And that, I thought, was that.
Only, it wasn't.
A few days later--a postcard from Rhodes, thanking me for my letter. You're probably right about the long militia rant, he said. It alters the pacing. And a few other things--all kind.
That postcard is now framed, hanging on my wall.
NEXT TIME--A bit about Rhodes' novels: What does he write about? What are they like? And--if space permits--about why we like/dislike books?