Three decades of American history underpin a quiet, but charismatic drifter’s travels, from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, where he meets a series of characters as CONTINENTAL DRIFT questions the elusive nature of freedom. Creating the iconoclastic Gary, author G. Burton attempts to uncover the complicated nature of staying free in a world that demands conformity. Gary enters in the ‘60s, displaying both his malleability and his steadfastness, as he helps his duplicitous uncle create an urban enclave for hippies and outcasts.
But soon, he’s traveling. Gary goes where the road takes him, as Burton references Beat Poets, obscure economic thinkers and American interventionist foreign policy to mark his protagonist’s way. Living free within each moment, Gary hops trains and hitchhikes, while steadfastly refusing the two-car-garage jail cell of the American Dream. Gary befriends hobos, businessmen, sailors and college students, each new friend coming with a backstory that helps build CONTINENTAL DRIFT into a primer on human foibles and ambitions. In Gary, the human struggle for purpose and meaning play out in small ways. His work as a boat-hand finds him confronting racism and bigotry. His stint as a lumberjack and enforcer lets him deflate the grotesque ambitions of a businessman. And Gary’s brief time as a day laborer brings out the kindness in a taciturn rancher.
Gary follows and leads, but does both reluctantly and at times out of obligation. Burton seeks to portray a complicated man struggling always to be kind. He is a man learning as he goes, but wary of forming lasting attachments. Despite Burton referencing Kerouac’s Dean Moriarity, Gary most often resembles a kinder incarnation of The Fountain Head’s Howard Roark. Gary’s a man that insists on freedom to do as he pleases and struggles when boundaries appear – either from others or from himself. Burton’s well-crafted prose weaves a story rich in detail, one that allows the 698-page tome to drift delightfully through time. When Gary’s last encounter seems to change his very nature, the corruption of America and its promise of freedom appears complete.
Burtons’ story is a symbolic march through American history, with Gary’s encounters reminiscent of America’s hopes, struggles and sins. Gary mirrors America’s bumpy ride. At the end of CONTINENTAL DRIFT, Gary succumbs to a false machismo: exactly where the country landed when Reagan gave voters a fake version of themselves, borne of false nostalgia and tin-pan patriotism. But just maybe there will be a new voyage for the country, off into a more enlightened future. Gary and his new love, Gabriella, perhaps finding their way, just as maybe America can, even in these new and hateful times.
In author G. Burton’s foreword, he declares CONTINENTAL DRIFT a literary swing for the fences, an attempt at a Great Statement on life’s lessons. For some readers, it will be a home run, for others a triple. It’s a great effort, and one all readers will appreciate.
~Greg Rideout for IndieReader