Book/page totals

Top 10 Lists

Friday, September 22, 2006

As conveyed by the subtitle, this book is an autobiography of sorts related by Jayber Crow, a long-time barber (and gravedigger and church janitor) of a fictional town in Kentucky called Port William. Until I stumbled upon this novel, I thought of Wendell Berry as a farmer, poet, and essayist: I didn’t know that he also wrote fiction. I am glad that he wrote Jayber Crow. It is one of the most warm-hearted, generous, and moving stories I have read, yet the tone throughout remains humble and unpretentious.

Given that Jayber feels himself to be intimately connected to Port William, to suffer its fate whether good or bad, it makes sense that the novel is as much about the land as Jayber’s own affairs. It is clear that Jayber cherishes an innate love for the created world and all of its inhabitants. This awe, at once visceral and spiritual, gives him great joy in his wanderings and observations in the natural world, but also causes him frequent grief as “progress” pushes nature to the margins of people’s experience and consideration. He is very skeptical that any of man’s inventions can compare with the beauty, economy, and rightness of nature’s processes. I instinctively connected with Jayber’s observations in this, though I know that many readers won’t.

Jayber’s lifelong goal to love others is compelling and encouraging. He takes seriously Jesus’ admonition to “love your enemies and do good to them that hate you;” he is able to step back to see the sympathetic side of unlovable people and accept them for who they are. Jayber’s simple belief that each person is a dignified soul frees him to treat his neighbors with kindness and understanding, an attitude that rubbed off on me (at least while reading the book!).

Wendell Berry’s prose is strikingly apt. He is able to render human fallacies and failures in such a way as to cause profound sorrow, yet he doesn’t neglect the laughter and irony inspired by friendship and love.

Title:Jayber Crow : the life story of Jayber Crow, barber, of the Port William membership, as written by himself
Author:Wendell Berry
Date published:2000
Number of pages:363


Google Search