Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Book Review: Fidelity: Five Stories

Genre:  Literature & Fiction
Author: Wendell Berry
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Poet, essayist, writer, philosopher. Wendell Berry is one of the most engaging writers you will read whether you are mulling over his essays, reading his novels, or marveling at his short stories. His fiction is utilized to serve his honest values as much as his non-fiction.

"His nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to Berry, the good life includes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, husbandry, good work, local economics, the miracle of life, fidelity, frugality, reverence, and the interconnectedness of life. The threats Berry finds to this good life include: industrial farming and the industrialization of life, ignorance, hubris, greed, violence against others and against the natural world, the eroding topsoil in the United States, global economics, and environmental destruction."
Written in 1992, Fidelity is not a new book. It is just new to me. It is part of the Port William stories, a number of books Berry has written about that fictional town. The books and characters all weave together telling the tales of the lives if its inhabitants. This, however, is not serial novilization as we see today. Berry just keeps returning to a theme and a wonderful theme it is.

I believe I have found a new love: Wendell Berry. This is going to cost me money like any new love does. I am going to have to start buying his books from the beginning of the Port William telling. The characters in this book already live with me and I am compelled to go back and visit them again.

"In his newest short story collection, FIDELITY, Wendell Berry continues his saga of the Port William Membership, a small rural farming community in Kentucky up through World War II. Told in a simple, eloquent oral style, these stories fill in gaps in the lives of the Feltners, Coulters, Penns and other fictional families familiar to the readers of Berry’s previous novels and stories. In the first story, “Pray Without Ceasing,” we learn how a murder committed in the summer of 1912—when Thad Coulter shot Ben Feltner—has, through forgiveness and forsaking of vengeance, served to knit the two families together in marriage.

“A Jonquil for Mary Penn” describes the adjustment of a young farming couple as they are gradually drawn into a close-knit community that understands them well enough to meet their unspoken needs. When the young wife, Mary Penn, is sick with fever and despondent after a quarrel with her husband, she awakens to find a neighbor sitting at her bedside. “Making It Home” describes a young soldier’s slow readjustment to civilian life as he makes the long walk from the bus station to his family farm. And “Fidelity” describes a young farmer’s impulsive decision to take his comatose father out of a Louisville hospital so that he can die with dignity in his home. Neighbors look after each other during a flood in “Are You All Right?”

Wendell Berry demonstrates the eloquence of a master storyteller in these five tales that take us to a quieter, simpler time in American culture when the strength and resilience of rural communities gave people a sense of pride and place."
This is beautiful writing. As good as writing gets. Get yourself a copy and settle down in an easy chair for one of the finest reads of your life.

(Originally posted to Multiply July 24, 2008)

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