JEWELWEED

David Rhodes

In Jewelweed, David Rhodes—the beloved author of Driftless—returns to the small town of Words, Wisconsin, and introduces a cast of characters who all find themselves struggling to find a new sense of belonging in the present moment—sometimes with the help of peach preserves or mashed potato pie.

After serving time for a dubious conviction, Blake Bookchester returns home, enthralled by the philosophy of Spinoza and yearning for the woman he loves. Having agitated for his release, Reverend Winifred Helm slowly comes to understand that she is no longer fulfilled by the ministry.

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In Jewelweed, David Rhodes—the beloved author of Driftless—returns to the small town of Words, Wisconsin, and introduces a cast of characters who all find themselves struggling to find a new sense of belonging in the present moment—sometimes with the help of peach preserves or mashed potato pie.

After serving time for a dubious conviction, Blake Bookchester returns home, enthralled by the philosophy of Spinoza and yearning for the woman he loves. Having agitated for his release, Reverend Winifred Helm slowly comes to understand that she is no longer fulfilled by the ministry. Winnie’s precocious son, August, and his best friend, Ivan, befriend a hermit and roam the woods in search of the elusive Wild Boy. And Danielle Workhouse, Ivan’s single mother and Blake’s former lover, struggles to do right by her son. These and other inhabitants of Words—all 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.

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  • Milkweed Editions
  • Paperback
  • April 2014
  • 464 Pages
  • 9781571311061

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$16.00

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About David Rhodes

As a young man, David Rhodes worked in fields, hospitals, and factories across Iowa. After receiving an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he published three acclaimed novels: The Last Fair Deal Going Down (1972),The Easter House (1975), and Rock Island Line (1977). In 1977, a motorcycle accident left him partially paralyzed. In 2008, Rhodes returned to the literary scene with Driftless, a novel that was hailed as “the best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years” (Alan Cheuse). He lives with his wife, Edna, in rural Wisconsin.

Praise

Reminiscent of Steinbeck, with a little touch of Michener.”

Alan Cheuse, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered

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

Minneapolis Star Tribune

[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)

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.”

Chicago Tribune

Discussion Questions

Food is a key element in Jewelweed. Beginning with the breakfast pie Nate eats in the first chapter, food, taste and smell all seem critical to this story. What are some other instances where food is central to the narrative? How has food played an important role in your life?

Early in the novel, Winnie considers “how she might know herself better” (35). In what ways are the other characters trying to know themselves better? Which characters are the most successful?

The characters in Jewelweed all seem to be yearning for freedom. Freedom looks different for each of the characters, but can the concept be distilled? Do any of the characters find the freedom they seek?

Did the justice system fail Blake? Does Jewelweed offer a critique of the system?

There are glimpses of the fantastic throughout Jewelweed – the giant turtle that evades capture, the Wild Boy’s ability to be largely unseen, the extraordinarily lifelike statues Lester Mortal creates and then burns as a way of letting go of parts of his past. How does Rhodes make the ordinary seem extraordinary? Does his writing style evoke the fantastic, or does the content?

What function does the Wild Boy serve? When the details of the Wild Boy are fleshed out as Jewelweed comes to a close, does your opinion of Lester Mortal change?

At one point Blake says to Jacob, “Do you ever think maybe there are some things you weren’t supposed to get over? Things that would take you the rest of your life to work through?” (209) What hasn’t Blake gotten over? What have other characters been unable to let go of?

Why do Ivan and August have such a strong bond? How does August’s worldview impact his relationship with other characters?

Faith is a central theme in Jewelweed – religious and otherwise. How does Winnie’s faith evolve throughout the course of the book? How does Rhodes create the sacred through language?

Blake mentions experiencing “deathless grief” (423). What does he mean by this? Are there other deathless griefs in Jewelweed?

How does the Midwestern landscape affect the story? Is there a “Midwestern” voice at play? Would you know Jewelweed takes place in the Midwest if it wasn’t specified? What makes something “Midwestern”?