Finished reading this on Tuesday evening of Day 9. 295 pages of 440 read during the challenge. It was so hard to close the book. Clunk. You know how it is when you don’t want to leave the world an author has created. That was my experience with this one. I lived there from 1888 to 1986 with decent, caring people.
Berry is an activist, poet, and essayist, and farmer, as well as a writer of fiction. He lifts me up. A friend sent me two of his poems when I told her I was reading this book, and I think they will do a better job than I ever could of concisely communicating the feel of the stories in this book. It is set in the fictional Kentucky farming community of Port William. Berry helpfully dates each story and provides in the back of the book a map of the area and a page showing family trees for all of the characters in the stories. The poems:
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
© Wendell Berry
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I will give you one example of his gentle treatment of his characters and his readers from the book. We know that Mat Feltner is very close to death when Mat’s wife gives their grandson a pair of his shoes to wear. Shoes are not wasted, and Mat will never get out of bed and wear them again. Do you see all of this as old-fashioned and too sentimental? I’m truly interested to know. I may be affected by the length of time I’ve been on this earth!