Book review: Setting of David Rhodes’ novel ‘Jewelweed’ depicts Driftless region

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

“Jewelweed” is Rhodes’ second novel following his lengthy absence from publication. Like “Driftless” before it, “Jewelweed” is set near the fictional community of Words, Wisconsin, in the west-central Driftless region. Blake Bookchester is nearing completion of a 10-year sentence for delivering drugs. Though he did it unknowingly, he was set up to take the fall. The result was not only to mess up his life, but to a large extent, his father’s, and to an even larger extent, his girlfriend’s.

Like the novel before it, “Jewelweed” explores several subjects while telling an engaging story. A personal examination of faith by Minister Winnie becomes an important aspect. And what does 10 years in prison do to one’s spiritual beliefs? There are references to “Spinoza’s God.” Google, anyone? And Rhodes again makes note of the divide between the common man, the government and the monied class. But in this novel, the real culprit is the prison system. And Rhode’s case is, though somewhat crudely stated, quite convincing.

As mentioned in an earlier review, Rhodes has a talent for expressing a picture in a few words, perhaps a simile or metaphor. When an elderly lady got in the vehicle for a ride to the hospital, Rhodes says, “The truck filled with oldness ….” A full Amish buggy was described as “a nest of humans ….” One of several references to the prison system: “… prison shoveled you like compost inside oblivion’s garden.” And later, speaking of an elderly woman, “And then she paused, and asked at the speed of ice melting at the North Pole….” Finally, when one of the characters is speaking of repetitive tasks as a way to keep the mind in check, “Having a mind is like having a child — you won’t have any peace until you can keep it busy.”

There’s always push for the value of buying local. To a large extent, that holds true for reading also. It’s great to use books to explore foreign places and ideas but to find the stories that are close to home adds a dimension.

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