More than once, I’ve discovered a favorite author by accident. That’s what happened with David Rhodes, whose 2009 novel Driftless was offered to me as a free e-book through Barnes & Noble’s “Free Fridays” program. B&N’s online book review piqued my curiosity, so I downloaded the book and started reading. I’d not heard of Rhodes before then, but Driftless grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go.

Driftless takes us to an isolated Wisconsin farmers’ town called Words. Rhodes’ richly sensory descriptions of the town and its people transport us to that bucolic place, which at first seems like Jan Karon’s cozy town of Mitford. But as we get to know its people, we find that many of them are perched on the precipice of disaster…or have already slipped over the edge.

Like the farmer who goes to his barn to milk the cows in predawn serenity and stops at the tool shed on his way back to fashion a pipe bomb. Or the sweet spinster, confined to her wheelchair, who cashes out the family home and takes it to a casino to test whether God loves her. Ordinary people who find themselves thrust into dangerous, frightening situations and discover what they’re made of–not unlike David Rhodes himself.

Repeatedly, Rhodes takes us inside the spiritual conscience of his subjects. We learn what they understand of God, their relationship with God, and their purpose in life. This made me want to learn more about Rhodes himself.

The grandson of a Quaker minister who grew up in a Wisconsin farming community, David Rhodes published his first three novels in the early 1970s. Those books captivated the attention of the literary world, so that John Gardner called him “a fresh eye in American fiction.” Paralyzed by a motorcycle accident 1977, Rhodes published no more stories for the next thirty years. He became addicted to pain-killing drugs, his marriage disintegrated, and every attempt at writing fell flat.

Thirty years later, Rhodes was rediscovered by a couple of college students who read and loved his earlier books. They tracked him down through his former agent, connected him with a publisher, and eventually Driftless was published. I wouldn’t say that the book is an intentionally Christian novel, but it provokes meaningful reflection on the issues of life and death by portraying life in dramatic authenticity.

Rhodes’ interview on NPR’s “On Point” reflects on his 30-year odyssey back to publication, and reveals his genuine interest in other people’s spiritual journey. Worthy of careful study by every Christian writer, in my opinion.