Continental Drift

By Russell Banks
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for February 2017

Discussion Questions

1.Bob seems to have insight about his inadequacies yet is unable to overcome them. Does the omniscient point of view  give the reader a better sense of his interior life?

2. Banks compares the movement of refugees and other people escaping unbearable circumstance to the patterns of the earth’s currents and geological shifts. How does this metaphor inform the novel? Is Banks saying that such human movement is inevitable and unavoidable?

3. Are Bob’s and Vanise’s stories part of a larger, universal phenomenon? Consider the passages of pages 36-37 where Banks writes, “…from birth to death, it seems to us who are caught in the beat of our own individual hearts that everything happening on the planet is what happens to us, personally, privately, secretly.” Is this the case or are we insignificant in the “metabolic rate of history”?

4. What are your feelings about Bob Dubois and how did they change over the course of the novel? To what extent is Bob responsible for what happens to him and his family?

5. Do you agree with Heraclitus that “Character is destiny” (see page 263)? How can this be applied to the fate of the Haitians? Is it their collective destiny to be “childlike in their honesty and exploitable in their need”? And, what is Bob’s destiny?

6. Why do you think Bob decided to smuggle Haitian immigrants but not drugs? Is Bob any better than the smugglers with whom Vanise first traveled, who raped her and subjected her to such horrible conditions on board the boat? What about Tyrone?

7. How do Bob’s and Vanise’s stories inform one another? How do the italicized first and last sections frame the novel, and to what effect?

8. Why do you think Banks “killed off” Bob Dubois? Why couldn’t he and Elaine have returned to New Hampshire? How does Bob’s death—and its circumstances—support the novel’s themes?

9. Are Bob and Vanise tragic characters? Could they have prevented their fate?

(Some questions adapted from

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