Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow continues his tales of the Port William membership, which he began in Nathan Coulter in 1960. Berry’s writing is marked by a strong sense of place. He captures the beauty of the upland Kentucky farms, the forests, and the small towns along the Ohio River and tributaries. A farmer himself, Berry writes passionately and credibly about the the work that good farming demands. In Jayber Crow, Berry makes clear distinctions between those who feel a commitment to the land and its bounty, and those whose need to make money drives their decisions. Berry decidedly sides with the first group.
Here, Berry tells the story of Jonah (later Jayber) Crow. Orphaned as a young boy, Jayber makes his way through life from orphanage to seminary, and finally back to his roots, returning in 1937 to serve as barber in the community of Port William where he was born. Community is at the center of these stories. Berry is a passionate believer in the importance of belonging to a community and in the importance of community in the survival of our society. The characters here are clearly depicted, with all of their faults, but they are all the more real for those faults. Berry deftly captures the concerns, the loves, and the passions of his characters. Jayber’s unspoken love for Mattie Keith is the underlying foundation for the story. From the time he first sees her, through her difficult marriage to a local farmer with aspirations to achieve financial success, Jayber makes it his responsibility to assist her as best he can. Berry’s writing has something for everyone: powerful stories, beautifully described settings, and fully-realized characters. Jayber Crow is a gem among Berry’s fine novels.