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Jayber Crow Paperback – September 18, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 193 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The questions who and what and how and why are no doubt useful and occasionally even noble in their place. But for Wendell Berry, whose spare and elegant prose has long testified to the rural American values of thrift and frugality, four interrogatives must seem a waste, when one will do. Where is the ultimate qualifier, the sine qua non, for both the author and his characters. Place shapes them and defines them; the winding Kentucky River and the gentle curves of the Kentucky hills find an echo in their lilting speech and brusque affections.

Jayber Crow is another story of the Port William membership, the community whose life--and lives--Berry has unfurled over the course of a half dozen novels. Jayber himself is an orphan, lately returned to the town. And his status as barber and bachelor places him simultaneously at its center and on its margins. A born observer, he hears much, watches carefully, and spends 50 years learning its citizens by heart.

They were rememberers, carrying in their living thoughts all the history that such places as Port William ever have. I listened to them with all my ears, and have tried to remember what they said, though from remembering what I remember I know that much is lost. Things went to the grave with them that will never be known again.
Jayber tells the town's stories tenderly. Gently elegiac, the novel charts the tension between an urge to isolation and an impulse to connectivity, writ both small and large. As the 20th century moves inexorably forward, swallowing in great mechanized gulps rural towns governed by agricultural rhythms, Port William turns in upon itself. And as Jayber admits quietly, "Once a fabric is torn, it is apt to keep tearing. It was coming apart. The old integrity had been broken." Integrity, both whole and shattered, is key to the stories of Burley Coulter, Cecelia Overhold, Troy Chatham, and above all, Athey Keith and his daughter Mattie, to whom Jayber pledges his undying and unrequited love.

Berry's prose, so carefully tuned that you never know it is there, carries us into the very heart of the land itself; his exquisitely constructed sentences suggesting the cyclic rhythms of his agrarian world. Jayber Crow resonates with variations played on themes of change, looping transitions from war into peace, winter into spring, browning flood destruction into greening fields, absence into presence, lost into found. --Kelly Flynn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The role of community in the shaping of character is a recurring theme in the work of poet, essayist and novelist Berry, as evidenced once more in this gratifying novel set in Berry's fictional Port William, Ky. Jayber Crow, town barber from 1937 until 1969, is born in the environs of Port William, but after the deaths of his parents and, later, his guardians, he is sent to an out-of-town orphanage at the age of 10. Returning 13 years later, in the flood year of 1937, the solitary young man goes on to learn the comradely ways of the town. "In modern times much of the doing of the mighty has been the undoing of Port William and its kind," Crow reflectsAa reflection, too, of Berry's often-stated beliefs that salvation must be local, that rootlessness and a fixation on the postindustrial era's bright new toys will destroy us environmentally and economically. Crow earns his living with simple tools; he becomes a church sexton, though he is not unthinkingly pious; and his unrequited love for farmer's wife Mattie Chatham is pure and strong enough to bring him serene faith. In contrast, Mattie's husband, Troy, the novel's villain, disturbs the "patterns and cycles of work" on Mattie's family farm, trumpeting "whatever I see, I want" and using a tractor. The tractor stands for the introduction of new machinery and the unraveling of the fabric of family farming. It is not surprising when Troy cheats on his wife nor does it come as a shock when the Chatham's young daughter becomes a victim of dire chance. Berry's narrative style is deliberately traditional, and the novel's pace is measured and leisurely. Crow's life, which begins as WWI is about to erupt, is emblematic of a century of upheaval, and Berry's anecdotal and episodic tale sounds a challenge to contemporary notions of progress. It is to Berry's credit that a novel so freighted with ideas and ideology manages to project such warmth and luminosity. 12-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Port William
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (September 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582431604
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582431604
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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I bought this book because I like everything that Berry writes, but I wasn't expecting anything too great. A story about a barber in Port William? Seemed a little strange to me, but because it was by Berry, it was worth a read. This book turned out to be a great surprise, true to Jayber Crow's observation that all of the good things in life have come as a surprise. This novel follows the thread of many of the stories we have read about the Port William membership. Many of the familiar characters are here. But it seems that all of the threads of Berry's many works are woven here into a fine and beautiful tapestry. Berry's major themes about stewardship, sense of place, the importance of caring relationships, sense of scale, etc, are all here in a great story of learning, love, and forgiveness. This is a book about much more than just Where. It is also a book about who, what, why, and especially how. Jayber Crow chronicles the changes that modernity and industrialism bring to small town America. Country people were trying to get away from "demanding circumstances." But they "couldn't quite see at the time, or didn't want to know, that it was the demanding circumstances that had kept us together." The changes that are chronicled here apply to urban life as well as rural life. Great neighborhoods and family/neighbor networks were also part of the life of the great pre-industrial cities. A very large part of the answer to modern decay is the restoration of rural life, but we cannot ignore the cities. The question for us is how to follow Jayber and "lay our claim" on a place, rural or urban, and make it "answerable to our lives." Right living, in all of the details laid out by Jayber, is a large part of the answer to modern problems. A barber turns out to be an ingenious stratagem for storytelling and the dispensing of Berry's distilled wisdom. And it is a most unusual and gratifying love story as well!
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Format: Paperback
"Jayber Crow" is one of the most unusual and profound novels of this last century. On one level, it is a tale of the unfolding life of Jonah Crow, from his youth into his time of looking back upon the span of his life: it is the story of survival, bravery, acceptance. On this level, Jonah, who becomes Jayber, the barber of his beloved Port William, tells of the people of this town with great tenderness: their strengths and their foolishness (along with his own), and we come to know these townspeople and care for them.

Yet on another level, Jayber Crow is a philosophical reflection on the nature of love, God, time, and eternity. As a religious reflection, Wendell Berry, through Jayber, reaches to the core of our faith when he realizes that the only true prayer is "Thy will be done", a prayer that makes him tremble, but also makes him more of a whole person. Indeed, his reflections on the love of God, and the love that comes forth on this planet, is visionary and has the capacity to enlarge and fortify the heart of the reader. Chapter 23, "The Way of Love," is one of the greatest passages I have read. We see a man aching for love and for God, who some nights "in the midst of this loneliness" swings among "the scattered stars at the end of the thin thread of faith alone." We feel for his struggle and his faith gives us faith.

Concurrent with his longing for God, and his faith, is his love for Mattie. It is the most beautiful and truest portrayl of love I have seen: it is a love that personifies First Corinthians 13. It is a love that wishes only good and finds hope in knowing it has loved: nothing more. It is a love that does not seek for a payback.
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Format: Paperback
I agree with the reviewers who ranked the book a 5. While it contains several themes, it is first and foremost a spiritual book to me. It's beautiful prose captures the essence of friendship, the virtues of small-town America, the calm and terror of the river, the fragility of the land, and the tug of war between Heaven and Hell. It also details one of the most unusual love stories I have ever read. I have read it twice and am beginning it for a third time. I often go to sleep and wake up thinking about it and its meanings.
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Quite simply the most important book I have ever read. The friend who first told me about this book calls it "The New New Testament." This book told me more about what human relationships are and what they should be than anything I have ever read. This is the first time that I have ever finished a book and immediately started to read it again. Since I finished it the second time, I have turned to it over and over for the wisdom, humor, sacredness that are all found in the simple, elegant way that Mr. Berry has with words. And I have shared it with the most important person in my life. I live in a small town and love the people who populate our communities. No one has ever captured the feel of these people and these places as Wendell Berry does. But more than that, Wendell Berry captures the essence of what we all are, the torment that arises between what we seem to know at our core are the real values of our lives and what we are pressed to pursue to our own detriment. The characters are constantly alive and this is the greatest love story ever written. Thank you Mr. Berry for making my life better by this wonderful book!
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