Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wendell Berry's JAYBER CROW: More Fun in Port William, KY

(reflections on the novel JAYBER CROW by Wendell Berry.)

Stories by Berry, and a novel of his that I've commented on here at this blog, have been beautiful, funny, thought-provoking, occasionally annoying when Berry turns his characters into mouth pieces for his political views. But JAYBER CROW is the first book that struck me as "fun."

Small town barber Jayber Crow is a kind of priest. In the town of Port William, KY, invented by Wendell Berry to be core of his stories and novels, others are the creators and shakers and prodigals; bad boy Burley Coulter is a prophet, and Mat Feltner is a kind of judge. But Crow, handling the heads and locks of the male population for decades, noticing some "unauthorized" family relationships among boys and men of different families, is a kind of father confessor and, as part - time grave digger, he even administers some last rites.

His story, contrived to make him both an orphan and a boy dedicated to the Church, takes him through orphanage and educational institutions, through flood and voyage, to Port William, where Burley Coulter is the first person he sees.

From then on, he's witness to and party to the horse play and bad behavior of the male half of the population of small town Port William, KY.

As observer and ex-religious, Jayber Crow is an enthusiastic convert to Burley Coulter's idea of "The Membership," a tight bond of personal responsibility for each other that characterizes the best people in Port William.

I made enough notes about themes in this book, and techniques in this book, to have two or three more commentaries.

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