Painting Beyond Walls (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

In a sort of prelude to the main narrative, August Helm (last seen at the age of 10 in Jewelweed) is working as a graduate student at the University of Chicago when two significant events occur – he falls in love with a wealthy and beautiful corporate executive, and he interrupts his boss having sex with a student. Both do not end well. With his tail between his legs, he returns to Words, Wisconsin in the Driftless region, where familiar friends and family await. But things are different – folks have aged, relationships have formed, and most notably, a compound of super-wealthy city dwellers have carved out a private space where they live a luxurious life a bit in fear of the locals – kind of a rural gentrification. Can August navigate this new life without repeating his past mistakes? And can David Rhodes continue his conversation about community and culture while weaving in class conflict, the roots of power, the biology of attraction, and some speculative elements? It’s a tall order, but I think he succeeds mightily, as long as you accept and even savor the philosophical digressions and a completely unexpected resolution.

— Daniel Goldin


It is 2027. August Helm is thirty years old. A biochemist working in a lab at the University of Chicago, he is swept off his feet by the beautiful and entirely self-assured Amanda Clark. Animated by August's consuming desire, their relationship quickly becomes intimate. But when he stumbles across a liaison between the director of his lab and a much younger student, his position is eliminated and his world upended.

August sets out to visit his parents in Words, an unincorporated village in the heart of Wisconsin's Driftless area. Here, he reconnects with several characters from his past: Ivan Bookchester, who now advocates for "new ways of living" in an age of decline; Hanh, formerly known as Jewelweed, who tends her orchard and wild ginseng, keenly attuned to new patterns of migration resulting from climate change and habitat destruction; and Lester Mortal, the aging veteran and fierce pacifist who long ago rescued her from Vietnam. Together, the old friends fall back into a familiar closeness.

But much as things initially seem unchanged in the Driftless, when August is hired to look after Tom and April Lux's home in Forest Gate, he finds himself amidst an entirely different social set, comprised of wealthy homeowners who are resented by poorer surrounding communities, and distanced, in turn, by their fear of the locals. August soon falls head over heels for April, and different versions of his self collide: one in which the past is still present in tensions and dreams, another in which he understands his desire as genetically determined and chemically induced, and then a vaguely hoped-for future with April. When Lester is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, Ivan comes clean on a ghastly past episode, and April makes a shocking revelation, a series of events ensues that will change all involved forever.

As approachable as it is profound in exploring the human condition and our shared need for community, this is a story for our times.

About the Author

David Rhodes was the author of Painting Beyond Walls. As a young man, he worked in fields, hospitals, and factories across Iowa. After receiving an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in 1971, he published three novels in rapid succession: The Last Fair Deal Going Down (Atlantic/Little, Brown, 1972), The Easter House (Harper & Row, 1974), and Rock Island Line (Harper & Row, 1975). In 1976, a motorcycle accident left him paraplegic. He continued writing, but did not publish again until 2008, with his celebrated novel, Driftless. Several years later, a sequel, Jewelweed, was published to wide acclaim. After another decade, he returned to American letters with this extraordinary novel, his only to be set in the future. David Rhodes lived with his wife, Edna, in Iowa City.

Product Details
ISBN: 9781639550661
ISBN-10: 1639550666
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Publication Date: September 9th, 2025
Pages: 432
Language: English