The oldsters in How It Went, whom Wendell Berry writes about so fantastically, might remind readers of hobbits. They’re neither small nor furry footed, however they’re variety and hardworking, and their Shire, the land round Port William, Kentucky, is a part of them and they’re a part of the land. They’ve names like Jayber Crow, Fatty Moneyworth and Artwork and Mart Rowanberry. There’s even a few ne’er-do-wells known as Dingus and Les, however they’re extra out of a Paul Henning sitcom than J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium.
Berry’s ebook is split into 13 lovingly written chapters. Some are brief tales which have beforehand appeared in such publications as The Sewanee Assessment, whereas others are extra like vignettes. Collectively, they create a story that lightly unwinds and doubles again on itself, not a lot like a river however extra like a flowering vine.
The protagonist and typically narrator is Andy Catlett. Although we be taught that he’s trying again on a protracted life, the ebook begins on the day World Struggle II ends, when he has simply turned 11. Over the course of the ebook, we see him as a young person, then an previous man, then a boy once more after which a younger man.
Berry’s prose—in How It Went and nearly every thing else he’s written over his lengthy profession—is imbued with compassion. Folks have their darkish sides. Males drink an excessive amount of or harbor lengthy resentments. Some individuals, like Andy’s grandma, could also be sad, however discord isn’t dwelled upon. Even the lack of Andy’s hand in a harvesting machine is dealt with with Berry’s customary sensitivity: One other author would possibly’ve solid this incident as ugly, however Berry focuses much less on the accident than on the way it impacts Andy’s household and his self-image, which is certain up in his capacity to work.
For the parents in Port William, work is every thing, whether or not it’s making hay, dealing with a workforce of mules or constructing a barbed wire fence. Work shouldn’t be solely noble and obligatory but in addition lovely. Berry shares Tolkien’s disdain for industries that despoil the earth. In a hilarious scene, any person dares to drive a motorized tractor by means of Andy’s grandfather’s property, and the previous man practically assaults it together with his cane.
A ebook filled with such gentleness, knowledge and humility appears preposterous at the present time. It’s additionally one thing of a miracle. We’re fortunate, in such occasions, to nonetheless have a author like Wendell Berry.