Fidelity: Five Stories

Fidelity: Five Stories

by Wendell Berry
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Trade Paperback, 208 pages
Price: $16.95

In this powerful new collection, the noted poet, essayist and fiction writer returns to Port William, Ky., the fictional town introduced in The Wild Birds. Berry's narrator roams easily through the town's past 100 years, remarking early in the book that even the unknown past is present in us, its silence as persistent as a ringing in the ears. Birth, life, death and the primary institutions of family and community are the axes on which the stories turn. Their plots are as slender as fence posts: a soldier walks home at war's end; a young woman with a mild fever ponders her first years of marriage; a taciturn farmer takes his moribund father out of a hospital's intensive care unit so the old man can die with dignity. But Berry invests them with intense feeling, using the plain language of a largely oral culture, building metaphors and similes that have the clear ring of folk wisdom. His ground's-eye view of events can be chilling, as when he sums up World War II as a great tearing apart. If the stories seem somber in their emphasis on loss, the pains are clearly leavened by the comforts of community and connectedness that a small town can provide. An excellent introduction to one of America's finest prose writers.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

In these five interrelated stories, Berry focuses once again on the fictional town of Port William and on characters like Andrew Catlett, the central figure of his novel The Remembering ( LJ 11/15/88). Each story dramatizes an individual crisis but also emphasizes an abiding sense of community and the simple but solid agrarian values that sustain it. In "Pray Without Ceasing," for example, these values prevail over a primitive desire for vengeance. In "Making It Home," they provide renewed strength for a soldier as he returns from the carnage of war. In "A Jonquil for Mary Penn," a young bride from a higher social class accommodates herself to these values and finds solace in them. Although the title story is sometimes melodramatic and preachy, Berry's tales are usually engaging and display a quiet but powerful dignity.

-Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville

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