“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out–perhaps a little at a time.”
“And how long is that going to take?”
“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”
“That could be a long time.”
“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”
The really, really good books will always still be around when we finally get to them. But sometimes we wonder why it had to take so long? I’m embarrassed to say how long ago I borrowed this book from my sister-in-law Ina. She’s an avid reader of really good books and a very patient person. Why did it take so long? Well the usuals–new books blinking at me, the sheer volume of things that demand to be read on shelf, kindle, and library book pile. But I am finally reading some books on my own shelf during the pandemic, and that feels good. Wendell Berry strikes me as a patient person so I think it’s ok. His writing reminds me of other authors like Marilynne Robinson, Kent Haruf, Mary Lawson, William Kent Krueger, and David Rhodes. Berry writes with heart, soul, humour, and wisdom at a slow, gentle thoughtful pace that paints a picture rather than taking the reader for a thrilling ride.
Jayber Crow is a fine novel beautifully written. It’s a slow, gentle story that richly imagines ordinary people in a small rural town and grapples with humanity–love and loss, joy and despair, death and life, judgement and grace, as well as alienation and community. For some odd reason I have never figured out, I have a hard time remembering endings of books, but this one was so poignant I will never forget it.
Berry is a farmer, poet, activist and academic which is an interesting combination. Berry understands the connection that people have with place and cares about stewardship of the earth. From the symbolism of the river to the rootlessness of his orphaned wanderings, to the exploration of a hard-won faith, Berry is giving us variations on some themes of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. His love from a distance hints at Dante’s love for Beatrice. And yet it celebrates the simple and ordinary things in life that give us pleasure and keep us going. Jayber Crow, a seminary drop-out, humble barber, church janitor, and grave digger is telling his story on his own terms, and it just feels right.