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Jewelweed: A Novel Hardcover – May 14, 2013

4.7 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Rhodes continues the story of Words, Wisconsin, last visited in Driftless (2008), in this rhapsodic, many-faceted novel of profound dilemmas, survival, and gratitude. Happily married Reverend Winnie Helm is glad that her brainy, sensitive son, August, who has a pet bat named Milton, has finally made a friend, Ivan, the misfit son of Danielle, who struggles alone to support him. Amy, married to a wealthy contractor and running a household embracing four generations, needs help caring for her son, Kevin, who has cystic fibrosis. Nate, a truck driver with a passion for fresh, local food, worries about his son, Blake, who is finally getting out of prison. And everyone wonders about the mysterious Wild Boy. Rhodes portrays his smart, searching, kind characters with extraordinary dimension as each wrestles with what it means to be good and do good. As Winnie questions the rigidity of the church, Blake reads Spinoza, and Danielle faces her fears, neighbors come together in new configurations of understanding and giving. And all find an antidote to sorrow and pain in nature, from the teeming life of a pond to the splendor of jewelweed, a wildflower with a name that perfectly encapsulates Rhodes’ vision of the glory of the ordinary in this refulgent hymn to the earth, “psychic strength,” hard work, integrity, and love. --Donna Seaman


"[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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions; First Edition edition (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571311009
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571311009
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This emotion stitched writing lived in my heart throughout the whole book. It reminded me of a patchwork quilt. It was sewn together by friends, family and a few visitors with a certain pattern of which, it does not stick to. And yet they with love, compassion, humor and acceptance make it work anyway. This story is the lives of magnificent authentic characters that became real to me. I loved them, hated a few, smiled and desperately wanted to help many and long for their return. The quilt sewn and finished is unique in its excellence, which is actually the flaws.
A father doing his best, deeply feels his emotions without the knowledge of what to do. He has questions, uncertainties and hope. A son with mistakes directed by love of another and a ten year pause in his life and his families. The time has come for him to blend back in and what? His own fears push speed bumps in the middle of his road to his new beginning. Memories guide each of the characters in different directions that we all can relate to, understand and bond us all together.
One of the best reads I have had this year. I shall follow this author and the unique real life in the voice on paper. The stitched quilt of life will remain with me many years and I will probably revisit this writing many times. The author's voice brings you humanity and all that comes with it.
I won this book via good reads first readers and feel very blessed to have been able to slip in between the pages of such a exceptional written world.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Rhodes has me in his life whether or no he wants me. Don't know the man personally, but his two recent books, DRIFTLESS and now JEWELWEED have been two of the best, most beautifully written novels I have read in years. He has made his characters in and around a small town in Wisconsin come to life brilliantly. I cared about each one as if family.

I just finished reading another novel by another author who won a Pulitzer for it. It was wonderful, but I kept saying to my husband that if she won a Pulitzer for this, certainly David Rhodes is next! He agreed, having read both the above novels also.

Buy them new (authors do need money, you know), read them and you will be in Rhodes life, too, awaiting his next.
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Format: Hardcover
I started Jewelweed by David Rhodes right in the middle of a move from central Illinois to the beautiful island of Oahu. The result was that I read this book slowly, more slowly than usual for me. It turned out being a marvelous thing. Why? Because I got to chew over the developments and think them through and good grief, this was an epic story and then some.

Jewelweed is the name of a small, weed-like plant that is best left unpicked. This theme is constant throughout Rhodes' story, and with deft, beautiful, lyrical writing, each character is introduced and made to seem as if they are the most important one in the story. What I also really appreciated about this book was the insertion of some really quirky, believable characters. From the friendship of Ivan and August, the inclusion of Kevin, the hermit Lester, the "Wild Boy," Wally and the family, to Blake and Danielle's history and future, there is a diverse, colorful, wonderful set of characters that keep the story moving and remind us of how connected we all are.

I finished reading Jewelweed with a sense of regret and satisfaction, all rolled into one feeling. I was sorry to be saying goodbye, and honestly, a bit surprised when the story finished and the next page showed the acknowledgments. The story seemed as if it would never come to an end, in a good way, and it was a shock to my system to remember that even the best of stories do come to an end.

I'll be looking for more books by David Rhodes, that's for certain. I may not be reintroduced into this same world, but I'm hoping that I'll be able to recapture that feeling of wonder and experience the awakening of my imagination in a similar way.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jewelweed is a remarkable book. As in Driftless, David Rhodes leads us to see that what happens next isn't limited by what's happened before. In Jewelweed we find ourselves sharing the consciousness of a prisoner in a super-max. We discover that what we've learned to think about "prisoners" is limited-Blake Bookchester reads Spinoza. And the prisoner learns, is lead to discover, that he can not only leave prison but leave the prisoner-self his experience has locked him into.

Rhodes then introduces us to a range of characters less obviously imprisoned but still trapped by what their experience has told them about themselves and their prospects. We cheer them all on as, one ofter the other, they cast off their mental chains. As we cheer, we leave the limits of memory behind and embrace possibillity. Yes, as the book's epigraph by William Blake prophesies, the Daughters of Memory have-at least while we join these characters in their joy- become the Daughters of Inspiration.
My thanks to David Rhodes for the gift of Jewelweed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Aside from the random and somewhat laborious philosophical renderings, this is a well composed work of fiction as to how people in a small Wisconsin town mesh together with their respective lives:

Ex-con Blake and his truck-driving father Nate with cousin Bee.
Single Mom Danielle and son Ivan.
Construction company owner Buck, wife Amy with their cystic fibrosis son Kevin, Buck's Dad Wally along with rosary making fanatic Grandma Flo.
Pastor Winnie, her repair man husband Jacob and son August.
Then mix in a recluse hermit, a "Wild Boy", an alligator snapper turtle and a pet bat, it all makes a good foundation for character development and storyline.

We see how over time the heart finds its place in space.
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