Monday, March 10, 2014

Done: "Jewelweed" by David Rhodes

Done: Jewelweed by David Rhodes, 2013, 9781571311009.

Committee book. 
Not my kind of book.  Not my cup of tea.  Not my bag.  Not my scene. But fairly decent and gives you characters that are worth pondering and remembering. Jewelweed seemed full of symbols and literary allusion.  I could not identify any.

A passel of characters in rural, southwest Wisconsin.  Rhodes writes about the Driftless area of WI (this guy has nice photos of the area) and I think this has characters from his last novel, Driftless.  I did not read Driftless so I don't really know.  The Driftless region is so-called because it missed the glacial drift.  The glaciers did not come through and scour everything down.  Driftless is filled with lots of hills and valleys.

Rhodes gives us a bunch of characters and gives those characters plenty to do:

  • Winnie Helm is pastor of a small church, her husband owns a mechanical repair business, her son, August, is a smart kid. 
  • August has a large vocabulary and a way of talking that can be mistaken as pompous. August has a wild bat that is part pet and likes to ride in August's shirt pocket.
  • Nate Bookchester is a recently released convict.  Winnie arranged Nate a job at her husband, Jacob's, repair shop.  At the end of the novel Dart refers to Nate as "dumb as a box of rocks".  He is also impulsive and quick to anger and take offense.  Nate spent a lot of time in prison for his impulsiveness and stupidity and believes prison is a scam by politicians and vendors.
  • Danielle "Dart" Workhouse is Nate's old girlfriend and suffered abuse under her father and stepfather that still adversely effects her behavior. Dart is very protective of Ivan.  Dart has trouble trusting anyone and kindness is suspect; love is fake.
  • Ivan Workhouse is Dart and Nate's son but neither Ivan or Nate know this. Ivan has had trouble at school and will repeat fifth grade.  Ivan and August are best pals.
  • Blake Bookchester is Nate's father.  Blake is a long-haul truck driver who loves food and has decided to pursue a romantic relationship with his cousin, Dee, who he has not seen in years.
  • Dee used to work with both Dart and Nate at a cement plant.
  • Amy and Buck Roebuck own a large construction company and hire Dart to their live-in housekeeper.  Amy did not have much of a childhood and likes to keep things in control.  Buck is a giant but a very kind and considerate man.
  • Kevin Roebuck is Amy and Buck's 17-year-old son with cystic fribrosis.  Kevin has been facing death for 17 years and can be very negative.
  • Wallace Roebuck is Buck's older father.  Wally records his dreams.  Wally carries a notebook of the things he will miss when he is dead.  He frequently writes those things down: the smell of pancakes, wet dogs, fog.
  • Florence is Amy Roebuck's 108-year-old grandmother.  She spends every day making rosaries.
  • Lester Mortal is a long-term combat veteran who lives as a hermit in an underground sod house.  Mortal is a PTSD survivor.
  • Wild Boy appears at the fringes of the forests and, supposedly, lives wild in the woods.
The novel focuses on some characters more than others.  Ivan and August take up most the book with Dart and Nate the other focus.

Small town relationships.  Small church dynamics.  Looking at poor decisions from the character's point of view.  The start and growth of new relationships among the many characters.  Philosophy of everyday life.

1.  Rhodes's writing life has an interesting history.  He was pegged as being a future "big deal" in literary circles but like a lot of authors that did not turn out.  Mainly because Rhodes had a motorcycle accident that left him partially paralyzed.  That accident kinda got him off track.  A few years ago Rhodes last agent looked him up and Rhodes had a book ready to go.  Drifted was published.  Drifted did well.  Jewelweed came out last year.
2.  Rhodes may not have been publishing but the guy's talent and skill did not languish.
3.  Motorcycle love.
4.  Outdoor love.
5.  Rural boneheads. 

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