David Rhodes returns to the setting of Driftless and Jewelweed, as well as many of his fans' favorite characters, in Painting Beyond Walls, his probing and moving sixth novel. Through his 30-year-old hero, August Helm, Rhodes explores tension between economic classes, the tradeoffs of progress, love and sex.
It's 2027, and the Driftless area, dominated by hills and valleys more suited to family farms than industrial ones, has remained largely untouched by the larger technology-driven society. August left home for college, then spent eight years in Chicago as a lab scientist. He "depended on others to furnish him with a sense of self," so when beautiful, wealthy Amanda Clark ends their relationship and he gets laid off from his job, August returns to Words, Wisc. There the recently established enclosed community for rich people seeking refuge from nearby cities has caused friction with the townspeople. August falls in love with a stunning, smart, divorced resident of "The Gate," April Lux, for whom his mother serves as gardener.
As August undergoes a series of awakenings, Rhodes deposits nuggets of wisdom about privilege ("Every life comes with strings and how well you manage them is the only thing that matters," his mother tells August), different models of love, and the complexity of humans such as childhood friends Ivan and Hanh. Ivan tells August, "Money must be made, power used, and sex gotten," with a nightmare work experience on a pipeline to prove it. August must decide if he is ruled by these factors or if he can master his instincts and find a life of the intellect in the town he loves. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness