Jewelweed (Rhodes)

Discussion Questions
1. Did the justice system fail Blake? Was his prison sentence an appropriate length? Can he escape that part of his past? How do the other characters view the prison system? Does Jewelweed make a larger commentary on prisons?

2. 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”?

3. 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? How is memory connected to food?

4. 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? Are any characters avoiding selfreflection? Which characters are the most successful?

5. 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?

6. 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. Much of the novel is imbued with a subtle sense of magic despite its grounding in a rural landscape. How does Rhodes make the ordinary seem extraordinary? Does his writing style evoke the fantastic, or does the content? Is it some combination form and content?

7. 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?

8. 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? Is this notion universal? What have other characters been unable to let go of?

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

10. Faith is a central theme in Jewelweed—religious and otherwise. How does Winnie’s faith evolve throughout the course of the book? Do you think the characters are trying “to find the sacred in the ordinary”? (284) How does Rhodes create the sacred through language?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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