Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Quick: "The Driftless Area" by Tom Drury

Quick The Driftless Area by Tom Drury, 2006, 9780871139436.

I ended up enjoying this quite a bit. The style is comparable to James Sallis with sparse writing and an acceptance of fate and misfortune. Drury doesn't throw the whole kitchen sink at you, he lets you fill in some holes and accept the absence of an extended story, background, dialogue, etc. The opposite of Joe Hill - who I also enjoy. It's a crime novel with a bit of supernatural in it. The novel is short as well, 213 pages.

There is a film version for which I recently bought the DVD for the library. I saw Drury's name as the story source and decided to try the book.

The Driftless Area covers significant parts of Southwest Wisconsin and parts of IA and MN. Driftless means there is no glacial drift. The glacier did not extend that far south - or split into two sections, I forget which - and left an unscoured area of land with plenty of steep hills and none of the sand, rocks, etc. deposited elsewhere in the state. Drury uses state names but creates fake names for most towns and cities. I'm guessing most of this is set in WI since several town names are similar to real towns.

Pierre Hunter grew up with his parents each on their second marriage. He was never close to his much older half-siblings and his parents died when he was at college. Since his college graduation his time is spent tending bar, drinking, and hanging out alone in his apartment. The booze gets him in trouble sometimes.

One New Year's Eve he leaves a house party and takes a walk. Pierre has a brief and strange conversation with an older man in a public park. Pierre then walks back to the party but goes in the wrong house, refuses to leave, and gets arrested. The old man leaves the park and visits a young woman they discuss Pierre and what they foresee Pierre doing.

A few weeks later Pierre decides to walk to work along the frozen lake and river. He falls in and is rescued by a mid-twenties woman who uses a rope to pull him out. Pierre is enamored with the gal and over the course of a few months finally goes back to visit and they start a relationship. Pierre takes his annual summer vacation of hitchhiking to visit a cousin in California. On the way back he catches a ride in MN with a shifty guy in a beat-up pickup.

Pierre makes a rooky hitchhiking mistake and stows his backpack in the truck bed. The shifty guy literally kicks Pierre out of the truck, drives off, and stops 20 yards away to look back and gloat at Pierre. Pierre throws a rock at Shifty Guy, hits Shifty in the head, and Shifty lets go the gas and crashes the truck. As Pierre recovers his backpack he figures to get some revenge onthe now unconscious Shifty by disabling the truck. Pierre lifts the hood to pull some wires and instead sees a package hidden behind the battery. The package is a bundle of cash. Pierre takes the bundle and splits.

The story moves on with Pierre moving in with Mystery Girl and Shifty looking for Pierre so Shifty can recover the $77k Pierre took. The story is pretty relaxed. We find out Shifty can be a dangerous guy, but he is more crooked than violent and I never had dread about what would happen once he found Pierre. He and his pals are small time, regional grifters and thieves. Meanwhile, Drury fills us in on Mystery Girl's past, Old Man's prophecies of some sort, and Pierre starting to grow up a little.

I enjoyed the showdown finale, that was fun. Pierre's growing relationship with Mystery Girl was well done and not too lovey-dovey.

1. Pierre and Shifty are two sides of the same coin. Two men with good parents, who graduated college, and knowingly took poor paths. Pierre never does much of anything outside of work, drink and hangout. Shifty started thieving in college and just kept on. They've got themselves on a track and just keep going.
2. If you want a read a real review the NYT one is online. I stumbled on that when trying to remember Pierre's name.

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