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Jewelweed: A Novel

Jewelweed: A Novel

4.5 8
by David Rhodes

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From a masterful storyteller, comes a Midwestern epic that illuminates the majestic in the commonplace.

When David Rhodes burst onto the American literary scene in the 1970s, he was hailed as “a brilliant visionary” (John Gardner), and compared to Sherwood Anderson and Marilynne Robinson. In Driftless, his “most accomplished work


From a masterful storyteller, comes a Midwestern epic that illuminates the majestic in the commonplace.

When David Rhodes burst onto the American literary scene in the 1970s, he was hailed as “a brilliant visionary” (John Gardner), and compared to Sherwood Anderson and Marilynne Robinson. In Driftless, his “most accomplished work yet” (Joseph Kanon), Rhodes brought Words, WI, to life in a way that resonated with readers across the country. Now with Jewelweed, this beloved author returns to the same out-of-the-way hamlet and introduces a cast of characters who all find themselves charged with overcoming the burdens left by the past, sometimes with the help of peach preserves or pie.

After serving time for a dubious conviction, Blake Bookchester is paroled and returns home. The story of Blake’s hometown is one of challenge, change, and redemption, of outsiders and of limitations, and simultaneously one of supernatural happenings and of great love. Each of Rhodes’s characters—flawed, deeply human, and ultimately universal—approach the future with a combination of hope and trepidation, increasingly mindful of the importance of community to their individual lives. Rich with a sense of empathy and wonder, Jewelweed offers a vision in which the ordinary becomes mythical.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
At the center of this brave and inspiring new novel is Blake Bookchester, imprisoned as the story opens, though the charges against him are questionable. Aided by friends and neighbors in the small town of Words, WI—the setting of Rhodes's acclaimed 2008 novel, Driftless—the thoughtful and fundamentally decent Blake experiences a rebirth and regeneration. The novel is filled with vibrant, skillfully drawn characters whose lives will surprise readers. Winnie, the town pastor, gives up her ministry to look for better ways to pray, while the precocious young August has the wisdom of a sage. Rhodes also has important things to say about humble, hardworking Americans at odds with contemporary American culture, which he finds predatory, corporate, and soulless. VERDICT An impressive and emotionally gratifying novel; highly recommended for fans of literary fiction.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
Publishers Weekly
There’s a benevolent sort of rural American magical realism in Rhodes’s latest ensemble novel, set in the Driftless region of southeast Wisconsin, where recently paroled Blake Bookchester returns from prison after serving over 10 years for drug trafficking. In the oddly isolated town of Words, Wis., Blake haltingly reintegrates himself into a vividly real landscape, but one that is peopled by a cast of characters too thoughtful to be believed. There’s his unacknowledged son, Ivan, a 10-year-old whose profound reasoning gives him wisdom far beyond elementary school, and Ivan’s best friend August Helm, a fifth-grader with a precocious vocabulary and a propensity for awkward exclamations too mannered for even a “gifted” child. Blake’s father, Nate, is a truck-driving epicure struggling with his connection to his just-released son and the deep romantic feelings he has harbored for a distant cousin. Other residents of the town include a pastor with a crisis of faith, a sickly teenage boy, and a turbulent but determined single mother. Words is a place where small actions unfold slowly, with Rhodes sometimes bearing down too hard to make the point that actions and words of this size and simplicity have profound redemptive qualities. Agent: Lois Wallace, Wallace Literary Agency. (May)
From the Publisher

"[A] rhapsodic, many-faceted novel of profound dilemmas, survival, and gratitude... Rhodes portrays his smart, searching, kind characters with extraordinary dimension as each wrestles with what it means to be good and do good."
Booklist (starred review)

"Brave and inspiring.... Rhodes also has important things to say about humble, hardworking Americans at odds with contemporary American culture, which he finds predatory, corporate, and soulless. VERDICT An impressive and emotionally gratifying novel; highly recommended for fans of literary fiction."
Library Journal

"Masterful storytelling.... The characters in Driftless and Jewelweed are rendered with such care and precision that this little known region of the Midwest becomes dazzlingly alive. At the same time, Rhodes' decision to publish again marks a welcome return of a master storyteller of real people who live in our small towns."
—Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune Printers Row

“I liked Driftless, but his emotionally rich new novel, Jewelweed, a sequel of sorts, is even better. The novel emits frequent solar flares of surprise and wonder.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"A master of nuance, Rhodes picks up on those 'inaudible rhythms' that drive human actions: fear, regret, friendship, yearning, and a desire for forgiveness."
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“[A] deeply moving meditation on the resonance of each individual life on a small Wisconsin town.”
Wisconsin State Journal

Jewelweed is a novel of forgiveness, a generous ode to the spirit’s indefatigable longing for love.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Jewelweed is another book that all Iowa should read."
Iowa Press-Citizen

"A benevolent sort of rural American magical realism.... profound."
Publishers Weekly

"Rhodes continues one of the great literary comebacks of all time, with this story of a parolee trying to adjust to living on the ragged edge along with the people he meets."
thirty-two magazine

"Jewelweed is an ode to 'ditch beauty'—the small, fragile bursts of bright hope that unfurl even in the unlikeliest of places. It’s a novel that revels in the nuances of ordinary lives and crafts beauty from a loneliness that seems inescapable. More than anything, this is a book that will make readers fall back in love with good writing."
ForeWord Reviews

Bookseller Praise:

“Rhodes masterfully paints their many layered complexity in language so vivid and kind, it nearly renders the reader breathless. This is a damn fine novel.”
—Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield's Books, Sebastopol, CA

Jewelweed is a remarkable piece of storytelling, soul-felt and deeply moving.”
—Mark LaFramboise, Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

"From philosophical prison inmates to childhood-haunted truckers, Rhodes's melange of characters feels so real, you'd swear you lived among them."
—Emily Crowe, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA

“With Jewelweed, David Rhodes has once more produced a moving, deeply thoughtful novel, of poor people doing difficult things often against their best interests in a little town in the upper Midwest. He is the same writer, maybe better, as the author ofDriftless. A lovely book.“
—Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights, Iowa City, IA

"Skillfully wrought...Jewelweed is told in flawless prose with an endlessly interesting narrative. My return to Rhodes’ world reminds me that it has been too long since my last visit."
—Sharon K. Nagel, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

"Jewelweed, a plant that looks like little pieces of jewelry strung together on heavy green thread, is an apt description of the people of Words, all tied together and realizing the importance of community to their individual lives. You will not want to miss a word of Rhodes' magical, soul-felt novel."
—Karen Briggs, Great Northern Books & Hobbies, Oscoda, MI

"David Rhodes takes seemingly mundane events, and makes them magic…. Jewelweed has been my first foray into his writing, but will certainly not be my last."
—Jack Hannert, Brilliant Books, Traverse City, MI

“Set in the same fictional southwestern Wisconsin town as Rhodes’ popular Driftless, Jewelweed will be the next great story about this area. It’s quite marvelous.”
—John Christensen, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

"In Jewelweed, David Rhodes tells a fine, thoughtful story with rich and marvelous language."
—Jill Webb, The Cottage Book Shop, Glen Arbor, MI

“Rhodes builds a homecoming story around the good people of Words, Wisconsin. Be prepared for a wild ride! Oddballs and unlikely alliances are at the heart of this tale of love and risk and redemption.”
—Ann Woodbeck, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN

“I read a lot of literary fiction. I chew through it. But the thing about Rhodes is when somebody says, ‘Recommend to me a writer who knows how to write; where I can actually fall in love with the words, where I’m quoting the book,’ I know I can go to David Rhodes.”
—Chris Livingston, The Book Shelf, Winona, MN

“I love David Rhodes because he writes about the power of one person to change their world. Quietly changing your landscape for the better, it’s the best interpretation of American individualism. “
—Keri Rojas, Cornerstone Cottage, Hampton, IA

Praise for Driftless:


“Reminiscent of Steinbeck...with a little touch of Michener...[Driftless] offers deep philosophical and meditative asides.”
—Alan Cheuse, on NPR's All Things Considered

“David Rhodes’ new novel, Driftless, is reason to celebrate….[He] has not lost one ounce of the mastery for which he was recognized in the first place.”
—Kevin Larimer, in a feature on David Rhodes in Poets & Writers

"Driftless is just marvelous."
—Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa City, IA

“A fast moving story about small town life.”
—Jeffrey Trachtenberg, in a feature on David Rhodes in The Wall Street Journal

Driftless is such a rewarding read—a surely written, patient book about small town life…[It] shares a rhythm with the farming community it documents, and its reflective pace is well-suited to characters who are far more comfortable with hard work than with words....A wry generous book.”
—Yvonee Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor

“His Robert Alman-esque new novel, Driftless, marks his triumphant reemergence in the book world after thirty-three years…”
—Kera Bolonik, intro to Q&A with David Rhodes in BookForum

"The best work of fiction to come out of the midwest in many years."
Chicago Tribune

"Driftless has been a long time coming, but definitely worth the wait...vividly imagined, shrewd, and compassionate. He is a master at uncovering the extraordinary lives of seemly ordinary people. The characters of his small town rural town become as mysterious, interconnected, and richly idiosyncratic as the landscape they struggle against and embrace. A wonderful novel."
—Joseph Kanon

"This novel shows how rural people deal with a world they can’t quite control; it echoes the late 19th century’s Naturalism, in that sense. It’s a beautiful novel that captures the essence of the Midwest perfectly." (five stars)
—Patrick Andrews, Age 29, Male, Arlington Heights, IL on Goodreads.com (where it has a rating of 3.94 after 877 reviews)

"Such an uncommon novel...full of nuance, full of threat, full of action, full of sorrow, full of the whole scope of human experience....a very serious, gorgeous, funny and really beautiful novel."
—Anna Clark, The Collagist, from her YouTube video

Praise for David Rhodes upon publication in the 1970's:

"One of the best eyes in recent fiction...Nothing in Rhodes' vision is secondhand."
—John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist

"A brilliant writer."
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Product Details

Milkweed Editions
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Meet the Author

David Rhodes grew up near Des Moines where he attended a Quaker School. He dropped out of Beloit College in the 1960s and eventually graduated from Marlboro College in Vermont. After receiving an M.F.A. in writing from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1971, he published three novels in rapid succession to acclaim: The Last Fair Deal Going Down (Atlantic/Little, Brown, 1972), The Easter House (Harper&Row, 1974), and Rock Island Line (Harper&Row, 1975). A motorcycle accident in 1976 left him paralyzed from the chest down. He continued writing, but did not publish again until 2008 when his novel, Driftless, was published. It received a Milkweed National Fiction prize, was read on Wisconsin Public Radio, and was chosen as an All Iowa Reads selection. Milkweed has reissued all of his previous books. He currently lives with his wife, Edna, in Wisconsin.

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Jewelweed: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very satisfying story about contemporary Wisconsin rural life. It follows some of the characters from Driftless and ties up some of the loose ends at the abrupt conclusion of that marvelous book. But Jewelweed is the story of wonderful new characters who you hope will overcome their problems and succed against great odds.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am almost finished reading Jewelweed and absolutely don't want it to end. David Rhodes creates such memorable characters. The dialogue between August and Kevin is just fantastic. I enjoyed Driftless equally and hope Mr. Rhodes doesn't wait to give us another novel.
MWgal More than 1 year ago
This is Rhodes' best work yet! Jewelweed is beautifully written with characters that I didn't want to leave.He seems to possess an inner knowledge of all situations making everything in the book entirely believable despite bits of seeming fantasy. I'm generally   tough as nails, but found myself crying more than once, especially at the ending. Thank you, David Rhodes, for a wonderfully moving book.
BillW13 More than 1 year ago
Let me be clear, if you don't like Spinoza, rural, or slow don't bother . However if you like people who talk from Their essence, who discover their best self then this book is for you . The twist at the end is wonderful .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A joy to read. Continues where Driftless ended. Reminds me of Wendell Barry.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the book. I read David Rhodes "Driftless" first. Would strongly suggest reading that before reading "Jewelweed."