A Best Book of the Year at The New Yorker
A Must Read at The Boston Globe, Literary Hub, The Millions, and Garden & Gun
“[A] lyrical incisive novel . . . [about] a changing climate, the invisibility of women’s work, and the perseverance of unofficial histories.” —The New Yorker
In Katy Simpson Smith’s The Weeds, 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, signed up 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.
About the Author
Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the author of the novels The Story of Land and Sea, a Vogue best book of the year; Free Men; and The Everlasting, a New York Times best historical ﬁction book of the year. She is also the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750–1835. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Oxford American, Granta, and Literary Hub, among other publications. She received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She lives in New Orleans.
“[Katy Simpson] Smith combines botany and the Roman Colosseum to tell a riveting story.”
—Shelbi Polk, Shondaland
“A lyrical dive into . . . loss, defiance and need, told through the stamens, leaves and petals of flowers and weeds.”
—New Orleans magazine
“A furious, beautiful book about the quest for knowledge and women’s part in that quest, as well as a passionate reminder that the struggle for women’s rights is ongoing.”
—Susan Larson, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate
“The Weeds is the kind of novel that’s like Halley’s Comet — something of its kind appears infrequently, but when it does, it leaves a significant impression.”
—Nicole Yurcaba, Southern Review of Books
“Irresistible . . . The dangerous potential inside every desire, every choice, drives the suspense in this engrossing novel.”
—Emily Choate, Chapter 16
“Luminous . . . A lyrical meditation on power, need, and love.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Marvelous . . . [The Weeds] shows a real power of storytelling . . . A wonderful book . . . [that’s] bound to find a place in your memory whenever you see a clump of rosemary.”
—Konstantin Rega, Virginia Living
“Laced with existential musing and dark humor . . . We begin to understand why these two women are here, in an ancient place where there is blood still deep in the sand, and, more importantly, what they are going to do about it.”
—Amanda Cockrell, Historical Novel Society
“By turns furious, hilarious, and botanically erudite, this deeply feminist novel shines a light on the relative invisibility of women’s contributions to botany in particular and science in general . . . Their absence from the record is a ghost that should haunt us.”
—Elizabeth C. Miller Library, University of Washington
“Full of wonders and history and secrets . . . Impressive.”
—Freya Sachs, Bookpage, starred review
“Garden lovers will delight in this roving, fascinating novel that follows a Mississippi woman who discovers the unexpectedly rich plant world of the Roman Colosseum. Wanderlust: induced!”
—CJ Lotz, Garden & Gun
“Erudite, playful, and filled with fury about gender inequality, [The Weeds] can be recommended to readers of cli-fi and feminist literary fiction.”
“[A] centuries-spanning story . . . Katy Simpson Smith muses on the constraints and choices of women trying simply to survive.”
—Eliza Smith, Literary Hub
“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.”
“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 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. I will be recommending this novel to everyone forever.”
—Ramona Ausubel, author of The Last Animal
“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. 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
“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