Two women, connected across time, edge toward transgression in pursuit of their desires.
A Mississippi woman pushes through the ruin of the Roman Colosseum, searching for plants. She has escaped her life, apprenticed herself to catalog all the species growing in this place. Crawling along the stones, she wonders how she has landed here, a reluctant botanist amid a snarl of tourists in comfortable sandals. She hunts for a scientific agenda and a direction of her own.
In 1854, a woman pushes through the jungle of the Roman Colosseum, searching for plants. As punishment for her misbehavior, she has been indentured to the English botanist Richard Deakin, for whom she will compile a flora. She is a thief, and she must find new ways to use her hands. If only the woman she loves weren’t on a boat, with a husband. But love isn’t always possible. She logs 420 species.
Through a list of seemingly minor plants and their uses—medical, agricultural, culinary—these women calculate intangible threats: a changing climate, the cost of knowledge, and the ways repeated violence can upend women’s lives. They must forge their own small acts of defiance and slip through whatever cracks they find. How can anyone survive?
Lush, intoxicating, and teeming with mischief, Katy Simpson Smith’s The Weeds is a tense, mesmerizing page-turner about science and survival, the roles women are given and have taken from them, and the lives they make for themselves.
“[A] centuries-spanning story . . . Katy Simpson Smith muses on the constraints and choices of women trying simply to survive.”
—Eliza Smith, Literary Hub, “Most Anticipated Books of 2023”
“Ingenious . . . Potent details bring [The Weeds] to vibrant life . . . Readers will enjoy stopping to smell the clematis.”
“A novel that repurposes the old-school botanical survey as a way of sorting through curiosity and desire in their rawest forms, set against the high-romantic backdrop of the Roman Colosseum in plant-strewn, crumbling ruin.”
—Sam Bett, Literary Hub
“[A] subtle, intelligent work.”
“Intricately written, combining lush prose, deep insights, and a wicked sense of humor, The Weeds is an irresistible reading experience. Katy Simpson Smith is a wholly original voice with talent to spare.”
—Jami Attenberg, author of I Came All This Way to Meet You
“Brilliant, poetic, unnerving, wholly original. What else would you expect from Katy Simpson Smith? With The Weeds, she has written another masterpiece.”
—Julia Phillips, author of Disappearing Earth
“The Weeds is a beautiful, strange and compelling novel. I liked it for its playfulness about history, for its embrace of bodies in place, for its sense of doom and weirdness at loose in the world, as well as its presentation of men’s power (and what they miss because of it). I kept wanting my friends to read it so we could talk about it.”
—Sarah Moss, author of The Fell
“What a terrific novel! Strange, moving and marvelously alive, The Weeds works—like the eponymous flora that fills its pages—with subtle insistence and exuberant power to unfurl its ingeniously twinned stories of injustice, heartbreak, desire, and hope. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Laird Hunt, author of Zorrie
“The Weeds is the story of secrets in plain sight—plants in the cracks of a monument, women’s lives rooted in spaces that provide them no sunlight or water—but this novel is anything but quiet or secretive. It is explosive and prismatic. Katy Simpson Smith writes everything from the microscopic to the vast, and in her hands the world is mean and darkly funny and outlandishly gorgeous. I will be recommending this novel to everyone forever.”
—Ramona Ausubel, author of The Last Animal and Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty