- 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: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (249 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jayber Crow Paperback – September 18, 2001
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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 the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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 the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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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. Again in Chapter 23, Jayber reflects on a true love that breaks the barriers of time, reminiscent of jani johe webster's poem "loving" from "a spider on the wall": "when the skin / on this body / i now call mine / shall become bone / the very bone / shall cry unto your bone / i love you." So it is with Jayber, who writes, "That is why, in marrying one another, we mortals say 'till death.' We must take love to the limit of time, because time cannot limit it. A life cannot limit it. Maybe to have it in your heart all your life in this world, even while it fails here, is to succeed. Maybe that is enough."
Another meaningful comparison between Berry and webster is brought to mind after reading Berry's metaphor of the "the Man in the Well." What happens to a man who, alone for the day in the deep woods, falls into a well? Will he survive? Who is this man in our own lives, and into what wells have we or our loved ones fallen? In webster's prose poem "the weariest river," the narrator's grandmother is locked out of her farm house on a winter's night: again, will she survive, and how? Both metaphors speak to our existential situation, to isolation and to hope.
"Jayber Crow" probes the meaning of life and our relationship to ourseves, to one another, and to God. An amazing comparison is to "Mr. Smith" by Louis Bromfield: the tale of another man, also written in the first person, who struggles with the meaning of life, but with completely different results. Both men recognize the beauty of life and its suffering, and yet the course of each life goes in almost opposite directions.
The image Jayber gives of "the rooms" made by the woods, through sunlight and shadow, is an image that is also a talisman for readers who also seek peace in the midst of life.
"It was a community always disappointed in itself, disappointing its members, always trying to contain its divisions and gentle its meanness, always failing and yet always reserving a sort of will toward goodwill. I knew that, in the midst of all the ignorance and error, this was a membership; it was the membership of Port William and of no other place on earth. My vision gathered the community as it never has been and never will be gathered in this world of time, for the community must always be marred by members who are indifferent to it or against it, who are nonetheless its members and maybe nonetheless essential to it. And yet I saw them all as somehow perfected, beyond time, by one another's love, compassion, and forgiveness, as it is said we may be perfected by grace."