Thursday, December 18, 2014


Last month I enthusiastically endorsed "Jewelweed" by David Rhodes as one of the best books I read in 2014.
Since then I've had the opportunity to return to Words, the Wisconsin town where Rhodes set his exquisite novel, in order to read the prequel "Driftless." I wondered, what if it isn't as magical? I needn't have worried.

 Driftless by David Rhodes book cover

There's something inherently good about the folks in Weeds. No matter their quirks, foibles, and differences, they are people you probably know. Their way of life may be a far cry from what we here on the east coast consider normal, it's simpler, more earnest, in a Little House on the Prairie kind of way, but damn hard work nevertheless. Rhodes respects them and so will we.

There's Cora and Grahm Shotwell, naive dairy farmers who somehow find the courage to take on the corporate giant that's been bilking them out of their fair share of earnings. Then there's Olivia, confined to a wheelchair from childhood, and her caretaker, Violet who has sacrificed much to care for her rebellious sister.

Grahm's sister Gail works in a factory and drinks herself to sleep most evenings yet she can sing like an angel, has a body to die for, and on the weekends, plays a mean bass in a country band that doesn't do her talent justice. She wonders what her life might be like if she could just get one small break.

Most special of all is the burgeoning story of Pastor Winifred who stole my heart in Jewelweed. Here we learn how she came to settle in Weeds in the first place, this young girl who seemed an enigma to her elderly congregants. She will be unyielding in her devotion to their staid practices. She will succeed at winning them over, keeping the story of her visions and voices to herself until she finds the ideal person with whom to share them.

David Rhodes is a master at capturing the zeitgeist of rural America. The story lines are deceptively simple, the characters are gloriously complex. His words and sentences, I think I've said before, often cause me to sigh with pleasure. How did he come up with that perfect metaphor? That spot on observation?

 But I guess what I love most about Mr. Rhodes is how he uses his fiction to espouse his belief that we are all connected with the most fragile threads. I can only think of John Donne's "no man is an island," when I read Rhodes and feel sure that no matter how insignificant we may think our lives are, somewhere, somehow, we've unknowingly touched another in a very significant way.

Coming up next week my top ten of the year. Start thinking about yours. I want to hear from you and I have a ton of books to give away. Got to clean out the shelves for 2015!

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