Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fidelity by Wendell Berry

In his novels and short stories, Wendell Berry writes about the people of Port William, Kentucky, a farming community that you will not find on any map. Fidelity is one of several volumes adding to the story of the Coulters, Feltners, Catletts, Rowanberrys, Penns, and other families who settle on the hills and in the valleys of the small rivers feeding into the Ohio River. These books take readers back to the nineteenth century and up through the twentieth, revealing how life in rural America has changed.

Fidelity starts with “Pray Without Ceasing,” a story in which the narrator receives an old newspaper clipping, which sparks his memory of his grandmother telling him about his grandfather, who was shot to death by a close friend. Many of the families are involved.

The embroidery on the book jacket refers to the second story, “A Jonquil for Mary Penn.” Not wanting to delay her husband who is going to help a neighbor, Mary tries to hide an illness. After he leaves for the day, alone and isolated, in a time before the party-line telephone, she finds her illness more serious than she would admit.

I read “Making It Home” on Memorial Day, which was very appropriate. Art Rowanberry returns from his service in World War II, having received a medical discharge. As he nears his home, hiking in because there was no bus, sleeping overnight in an abandoned barn, he remembers his experiences of combat.

In “Fidelity” Berry tells the story of the death of Burley Coulter, a character who appears in many of the Port William stories. His son Danny can not stand to see his father full of tubes and tied to monitors in the hospital and removes him in the night. The story ends with a scene that reminds me of a Miss Marple mystery, with family and friends gathered in a lawyer’s office to unravel the events for a young police detective.

The collection ends with “Are You All Right?” in which Andy Catlett worries about the elderly Rowanberry brothers, who are isolated by flooding. He and his friend Elton go out in the night to see if they can help.

The books of Wendell Berry do not have to be read in any order. I especially recommend the Hannah Coulter, a novel with many connections to this wonderful short story collection.

Berry, Wendell. Fidelity: Five Stories. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992. ISBN 0679416331

11 comments:

angusss said...

I am very appreciative of the comment - I hope you don't mind me placing a link to your blog on my page.
cheerio,
angus

pet sitter said...

So glad to see that Berry has new work! I picked up Farming: A Hand Book just the other day for a dollar at a used bookstore.

Cool blog!

Bo Drury said...

I enjoyed reading this and look forward to reading Berrys books. I had ancesters named Berry. Makes it even more interesting. Hope that is his real name....Bo Drury

Anubhav Kushwaha said...

I liked reading some of your reviews... Have you also reviewed "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini?

Stevo said...

Hi There, just wandering round looking at various blogs :-)
have a nice day :-) great blog

La vie est belle- Life is beautiful said...

Ookay...
Thats interesting, in a different sort of way...

I'm beginning to think this site is geared a little more toward the older generation...

Gene Roddenberry/Anima Mundi said...

sir how can i improve my blog http://pertinentpoints.blogspot.com/
?please post on my blog for your suggestions

valentin10 said...

really amazing, it's very great, nice blog congratulations !!!

ricklibrarian said...

Everyone.

Thanks for the comments.

I write for all age groups, and do have some of my friends who are in their 20s and 30s in mind as I write, but I bet that 40 and 50-somethings do connect with me more, as I am 53. I do review teen and children's books occasionally and comment on social software that has library applications.

Wendell Berry does particularly seem an older taste, though his statements could be pretty challenging to younger readers. Leading a good and ethical life is his aim. He is very anti-war and environment. You should read his essays to see where he stands.

I invite you to keep reading. Thanks again.

Rick

Shelby said...

Wow, I just randomly clicked your blog title from Blogger and found your site (ricklibrarian sounded like a cool blog name). In a freaky turn of coincidence, my grandmother is one of Mr. Berry's cousins. Apparently they had big families in Kentucky. I had no idea he had a new book out - I'll have to check it out. Cheers!

Ashok said...

I was checking out your section for books on Fiction, pretty amazed that you don't have any book from Micheal Crichton.. I believe you should definitely review at least one of his books. I have all his books at least 5 times.