Friday, November 9, 2012

A Place In Time

A book review

     Here is great news for all those people who love the "Port William membership":  Wendell Berry has just published a new book of twenty short stories called A Place In Time.

     The stories continue the beautiful weaving-together of people-and-place that began over fifty years ago with the publication of Nathan Coulter and A Place On Earth, and has continued through the years in many more books and short stories.  Those who have read the earlier stories and have come to love characters such as Wheeler Catlett, Jayber Crow, Mary Penn, Burley Coulter, and the rest, will be delighted to re-enter their lives in the stories in this volume.

     There is the very funny story of Big Ellis and his romance with Annie May Cordle, in which Burley Coulter becomes, shall we say, the match-maker.

     There is "A Desirable Woman," which includes something about Tom Coulter and his time, just before the war, in the little community of Sycamore.

     There is the story of Uncle Peach, far gone in alcohol, recounting his glory days with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War:

     "Yeees sahhh,"  Uncle Peach said, drawing out the words as if to make them as long as his stick, "them was rough times, which was why we was called the Rough Riders.  Hair, shit, blood, and corruption up to the horses' bits, and you needed a high-headed horse to get through it atall.  When it was all over and we was heroes, Teddy says to me, 'Leonidas, looks like one of us is pret' near bound to be the presi-dent of our great country, and if it's all the same to you, I'd just as soon it would be me.'  And I says, 'Why, Teddy, by all means!  Go to it!'"

     And there is the opening story in the book, told by "The Girl In The Window," set in the 1860s.  It is the best, most authentic commentary on the Civil War I can think of right now, and I am including Matthew Brady's photographs when I say this. 

     I was going to say, that if you haven't read Wendell Berry's fiction, you should start at the beginning, with his earliest work.  But on second thought, why?  His stories are like the Kentucky River -- there are lots of great places where you can jump right in.

     And after all, my own introduction to "Port William" occurred all unexpectedly one afternoon at Barnes & Noble a few years ago.  I pulled a copy of Hannah Coulter off the shelf, opened it to the middle, and literally couldn't put it down until I had finished it.  So I bought the book, went home, and read the first half.  No joke.

     Enjoy A Place In Time.  Wendell Berry remains in full possession of his many literary gifts -- and generously shares them.

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