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That Distant Land: The Collected Stories (Port William) Paperback – March 10, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in a small Kentucky farming village, this collection of Berry's Port William stories illuminates the evolution of rural American life over the course of the 20th century. In 23 stories, Berry chronicles Port William from the 1880s to the 1980s, evoking the connectedness of the small town's denizens to each other and to the land. In "A Consent," a memorable auction of home-baked cakes launches a romance between farmer Tol Proudfoot and Miss Minnie Quinch, the schoolteacher who becomes his bride. Their courtship, marriage and life together form the backbone of several other stories-in "A Half Pint of Old Darling," set during Prohibition, Miss Minnie goes on a brief but garrulous bender. "Nearly to the Fair" describes how Tol and Miss Minnie "went easy into the modern world" with their first motor car, a Model A coupe in which they're never as comfortable as they are with their horses. The most touching story in the collection is "Fidelity," about a terminally ill 82-year-old farmer whose son kidnaps him from the hospital so he can die on the land he worked and loved. Though many stories move at a glacial pace, Berry's writing is graceful, poignant and compassionate, and his feel for the inner lives of his quirky rural characters makes for many memorable portraits. A valuable work of literature and historical set piece, this collection vividly captures the fabric of a kind of all-American life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

This book collects all of Berry's short stories about the Kentucky farm community he calls the Port William membership and puts them in chronology according to the dates of their settings, from 1888 to 1986. Virtually every character in the stories appears in one or another of Berry's novels and narrative poems. Characters and Berry's simply worded, penetrating style are of a piece throughout. Berry knows one thing very well--a self-supporting, highly traditional community--and his mission in his fiction has been to show the richness and goodness of life within such a community. Tragedy, folly, and sin aren't excluded from the depiction; indeed, they are often as crucial to the stories as they are to Shakespeare's dramas. Yet there is an elegiac tone to the entire corpus, for the days of the Port Williams of the world would seem to be numbered; in the last story here, it is said that the membership is smaller than it has been since nearly its beginning. Indispensable to American literature collections. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Port William
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; Reprint edition (March 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159376054X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593760540
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have not yet read this book, but have read many of the stories in it. One of its sources in particular, The Wild Birds (now sadly out of print), is one of the most moving books I have read in years. No story has ever moved me more than The Boundary, an absolutely beautiful reflection on memory, loss, community, belonging, family and life. It is a true gem from start to finish, and worth the price of this book alone. It speaks eloquently and beautifully of all the values that Berry holds dear. I grew up in a small city in England, and have no sense of rural Kentucky life, but the values which Berry sets forth are universally deep and meaningful. His portrait of life in the small community of Port William is vivid and rich with life and humanity. It speaks to the heart of anyone who feels the connectedness of our human condition.
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Format: Hardcover
As usual, Wendell Berry continues to prove his place in the American literary tradition; if only his place were more widely recognized. His prose flows onto the page as natural as flowers spring from the soil or rain falls from the sky. I think that is an apt comparison since many of his stories consider the relationship between man and nature. "That Distant Land" is a collection of twenty-three stories, many of which have been published previously. They are brought together marvelously, arranged in chronological order from the 1880s to the 1980s, flowing in and out of time with the neighboring stories.

Berry's fiction focuses on the invented town of Port William, a small farming community in Kentucky. For those who have read his novels, the characters and the town are familiar; for those who haven't, Berry's world is so infused with natural grace that one automatically feels at home in Port William and among its inhabitants. "That Distant Land" gathers together assorted stories about Port William's characters, some that are familiar and told from a different perspective, and some that might be unknown, but no less familiar.

I especially enjoyed the stories that told of Ptolemy Proudfoot and his wife, Miss Minnie Quinch. "A Consent", the story of their odd courtship, is a story that leaves your soul beaming at the simplicity and overwhelming power of love. The Proudfoot-Miss Minnie stories add a dimension of humor to this collection that is absent in other stories. Berry does not rush any of these stories along; some are short, light-hearted anecdotes - others are long, meandering wanders through time and memory. Perhaps the two most poignant stories in the collection are "Fidelity" and the title piece.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wendell Berry's fictional town of Port William, Kentucky has proven to be fertile ground for a legacy of graceful, lovely stories about the place and its citizens. Berry has a knack for honing in on the key moments in his protagonists' lives when they reach very personal revelations about themselves and those around them. Add to this a gentleness of style, whether the stories are funny, tragic and/or all points inbetween, and you have narratives that stay with you after you've finished reading them.

This collection of stories about Port William spans the late 19th century to the tail-end of the 20th century. Most of the stories have been anthologized in other collections, but taken together here in chronological order, this anthology makes for a novel-like whole about people, their town and their ways of life that are either gone or gradually disappearing. Rather than sadness, though, the overall sense I get from Berry's tales is one of gratitude that such lives and such times came to pass and that they could be chronicled.

Idealized and parochial visions? Perhaps, but in a USA that these days seems so broadly fragmented across social, political and geographic lines, and where so much time and energy is spent detailing the worst aspects of an American dream gone wrong, it's heartening to read fiction by someone who remembers the good if flawed humanity that we all possess. This anthology and Berry's other fiction about Port William are storytelling at it's best. Recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Wendell Berry has written twenty-three stories that he has considered worth publishing. They are all collected here. All but perhaps five have been published before in his collections Fidelity, The Wild Birds, and Watch With Me. This collection puts the stories in chronological order of occurrence, and its table of contents further puts Berry's seven novels into the chronology.

Every one of the stories is well-crafted, and, taken as a group, both their quality and their scope are little short of astonishing. From the tenderness of the stories about Wheeler Catlett and his law practice first collected in The Wild Birds to the boisterous, almost slapstick humor of the Ptolemy Proudfoot stories first collected in Watch With Me, Berry covers an impressive range of material.

He also confronts the reader with some difficult questions regarding the value of a way of life that had already, for the most part, vanished when he published the first of these stories. One need not agree with the answers that he suggests to admire and enjoy these stories.
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