“Weedeater: An Illustrated Novel,” by Robert Gipe

Robert Gipe

Reviewed by Phyllis Wilson Moore

Robert Gipe’s Weedeater, the much anticipated sequel to his 2015 Weatherford Award winning first novel, Trampoline, has a problem common to some sequels; while it does expand the previous work, it teeters on the edge of too much, too soon, too similar. It is gritty, contemporary, and includes Gipe’s illustrated comments. At times humorous, it’s not exactly God’s Little Acre meets The Rivers, but close.

Weedeater picks up six years after Trampoline, and the characters are as unruly as weeds and just as hard to control. The protagonist from Trampoline, Misty Dawn Jewell, is now married to Willett, her kindly and odd boyfriend. They, and their rather precocious young daughter Nicolette, live near Willett’s family in Tennessee. Even though there are jobs, Willett can’t manage to keep one. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately for all concerned, geographic distance from Dawn’s dysfunctional Kentucky family proves ineffective. They know where she lives. Doors can be kicked in. Keys can be stolen. Cash and antiques can disappear. Plans can be upended.

Back in Kentucky, the Jewell family members continue to live up a holler about as far as you can stick a needle. And some like needles. The plot is loaded with activist, artistic locals, coal miners, multiple do-less folks, day laborers, deaths, betrayals, loss, sadness, love. Folks shoot up. Folks steal. Folks threaten. Folks get whacked. Folks love family. No one wins a “get out of jail free” card or buys Boardwalk. Few battles are won. Like the flying debris and dirt flung by a weed eater, the characters are impossible to ignore.

The one-page final chapter is in the voice of young Nicolette. Only four when the novel opens, she is now perhaps ten and looking back at her early childhood. She is sad and alone and leaves you wondering what will happen next. It is a ragged ending but hints there may be a third novel about this family. I have heard it said flowers bloom in coal dust. Perhaps this will prove true in Canard County.

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