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Book Review–Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow

Jayber Crow

Title:  Jayber Crow

Author:  Wendell Berry

Publisher:  Counterpoint

Pages:  363

ISBN:  1582430292

SynopsisJayber Crow is the story of an ordinary man, Jonah “Jayber” Crow, barber in the hamlet of Port William, Kentucky, during the middle of the twentieth century.  It is not so much the story itself, but the way that it is told, that is extraordinary.  Wendell Berry infuses every detail of this story (it is actually many stories within one big story, for it is really the stories of Port William told through Jayber’s eyes) with such delicacy and love that the reader comes to love Port William and her inhabitants, too.  There is much humor and not a little sadness in this story, but mostly it just provides the reader with the sense that Wendell Berry knows the human condition intimately but can find just enough faith to declare that despite everything, there is still hope.  This is a truly beautiful book.

My Thoughts:  Oh my goodness.  I wish I had counted the number of times I finished a chapter or even part of a chapter in this book, closed the book, and exclaimed to my husband that Wendell Berry is a truly talented writer, he writes beautifully, etc.  I knew when I read Sherry’s review at Semicolon that I could scarcely go wrong; after all, she is the one who directed me to this book.  I was hooked by Jayber Crow and his story from its beginning.  However, as I’ve already established, it’s really not because his story is remarkable; it’s just because Wendell Berry has told it in such a way as to make us realize that we all live remarkable lives.  I love a story full of little vignettes, and Jayber Crow is just such a story.  The characters in Jayber Crow, especially the men, remind me of men I have known in my lifetime who have been dead and gone for many years now.  I was particulary reminded of my papaw, who would’ve been a contemporary of Jayber.  I think, too, because the story is set in rural Kentucky, that I identify with much of what is said in it.  After reading this book, I want to really think about my life, for I, like Jayber “[o]ften . . .fear that I am not paying enough attention” (327). 

I cannot do this book justice in my halting discussion of it.  Instead, I will end with what is my favorite passage from the whole book.  It so reminds me of my grandfather and all the elderly men I have known:

I came to feel a tenderness for them all.  This was something new to me.  It gave me a curious pleasure to touch them, to help them in and out of the chair, to shave their weather-toughened old faces.  They had known hard use, nearly all of them.  You could tell it by their hands, which were shaped by wear and often by the twists and swellings of arthritis.  They had used their hands forgetfully, as hooks and pliers and hammers, and in every kind of weather.  The backs of their hands showed a network of little scars where they had been cut, nicked, thornstuck, pinched, punctured, scraped, and burned.  Their faces told that they had suffered things they did not talk about.  Every one of them had a good knife in his pocket, sharp, the blades whetted narrow and concave, the horn of the handle worn smooth.  The oldest ones spoke, like Uncle Othy, the old broad speech of the place; they said “ahrn” and “fahr” and “tard” for “iron” and “fire” and “tired”; they said “yorn” for “yours,” “cheer” for “chair,” “deesh” for “dish,” “dreen” for “drain,” “slide” for “sled,” and “juberous” for “dubious.”  I loved to listen to them, for they spoke my native tongue.  (127)

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7 Responses

  1. Oh, yes, it is a good book, isn’t it? You would probably like Hannah Coulter, too. I did.

  2. Jayber Crow is one of my favorites. Wendell Berry is able to express such a deep and profound sadness, a longing and a sorrow for what I never knew I lost. And he does this without falling into sappy sentimentalism.

    I loved this book so much and was so moved by the story that I didn’t even notice that Berry based Jayber Crow on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Pretty cool, huh? Guess it’s time for a second read!

  3. Amy,

    I usually just lurk but I had to comment on Jayber Crow. It’s probably my favorite novel written in the last 50 years.

    Don’t feel too bad about missing the Dante reference. I’m an English teacher too and it flew right past me. I learned about the Dante parallel from listening to a Circe lecture.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  4. Haha, my review might be slightly bias but thats because Wendell Berry is my great uncle. Personally, I thought the book was beautifully written also, but the style was not for me. I thought that it was extremely slow paced, it used a profound amount of sensory detail and over analyzed ever setting. It was most likely the most vivid details of almost any book I have ever read, and I applaud my uncle for that fact, and it validates to me, why he is so acclaimed. This was in fact the second of his books in which I have ever read, the first being The Hidden Wound, and personally I enjoyed both equally. Jayber Crow was a very interesting to say the least, but it did not satisfy my hunger for a plot thickened book. I know, that probably seems very shallow of me, but take for granted I love the catcher in the rye and many say its an extremely bland and dry book, but i like it. I am very glad i read this book, it was much better then a poorly written plot driven book. For his writing style and genre, I am sure this is the cream of the crop and I could see why. But, It is still just not for me. Thank you very much for pointing out that parallel, I never would have guessed that, I have not read that entire book but i know the main story and that is very ingenious. Feel Free to e-mail if you would like to further discuss this or any other piece of literature. Hardcoreguitarist6761@gmail.com

  5. […] became acquainted with Port William and its Membership when I read Jayber Crow (read my review here).  The style and tone of Hannah Coulter is very similar to that of Jayber Crow, but there are […]

  6. […] myself.  I was reminded over and over again, too, of Wendell Berry’s works (see my reviews here and here) because of the idea that “the tribe was broken, and would be mended no […]

  7. […] It is not an understatement to say that Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry opened up a new world of literature to me.  Berry’s writings really resound […]

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