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Jayber Crow Paperback – September 18, 2001

4.7 out of 5 stars 224 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

Jayber Crow, town barber in Port William, Ky., recounts his life journey, which parallels the decline of sustainable agriculture throughout rural America. The agrarian threads also run through the novel's romantic triangle, in which Crow pines for the heart of the gracious and beautiful Mattie Chapman, whose ambitious agribusinessman husband, Troy, embodies the antithesis of Crow's sacred devotion to nature. Veteran narrator Paul Michael effectively portrays Crow's complexities and contradictions as both an insider at the hub of community life and a self-sufficient loner who eschews the material comforts and conveniences of the modern age. As Crow and his friends feast on fried catfish and corn pone at a water-drinking party, Michael's whimsical imitation of the good, good, good sound of a moonshine whiskey jug evokes a wistful connection to the joyous simple pleasures of a contemplative existence. Michael's deliberate pronunciation of hard consonant sounds as Crow repeatedly scoffs at the machine-like momentum of the war and the economy may seem heavy-handed. Yet Berry's activism informs his storytelling, so listeners familiar with his body of work should not be surprised by the political edge. A Counterpoint paperback (Reviews, July 31, 2000). (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Port William
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (September 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582431604
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582431604
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (224 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Jacob on September 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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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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