Interrupted by Books

So many many books…..

Let me mention and praise Wendell Barry’s Hannah Coulter, it is so beautifully crafted, so beautifully written, but of course it is by Wendell Barry. It also struck me deep in the heart. The passing of the “family farm” is, perhaps, the main loss in the story’s plot. The characters are so alive, they live and breathe and I feel as if I know Hannah and feel the suffering that a way of life has passed or changed so completely. So often this story would be told romanticized or with nostalgia and, of course, both of those perhaps are elements. And there are other truths about country life and country living that were only in the very very outer margins of the story. Different stories about farming life and country life will be told by different authors and in different books. Berry has given us a gift of meeting Hannah, and the people she loves, and learning about the life she and they have lived, and how much they loved “having membership” in that community. It is so real that I feel as if I was there. It was beautiful.

Because for all the sorrow, this is at some core level a novel about a happy life and happy and loving marriage; a network of family and friends. It is about good people, who might have their little ways, but they are decent, loving, kind, hardworking, skilled at what life has caused them to be skilled at.

“The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together.”

or maybe

“Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different.”

Seriously, you can pick out pretty every sentence…. beautiful, transparent, proper, fitting, wonderful writing.

While they mention going to church, other than one small scene, church and religious life isn’t part of the story, but it is part of the lyrical language, part of the richness of the language. Faith is in the iron and bones of the very structure of the lives these characters live, breathed in the very air. Port William may in fact be heaven or a vision of the new earth that is to come.

Oddly, I’ve also read recently the two-book autobiography by Beverly Cleary, the wonderful children’s author. A Girl from Yamhill and  On My Own Two Feet these are engrossing stories of how she got her education and because a writer, when both of those things were hard to do for anyone much less a girl. It, too, takes place in the depression and then WWII and brings that whole era vividly to life. I think at times she was trying to be funny in telling her story, and all I can think is how amazing and strong she was. Really interesting.




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