Book Review – Jayber Crow

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

It’s been roughly 30 years since I discovered Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone Days.  I discovered there a type of prose and story I’d never run into before, and it captivated me.  Snippets of local life.  Characters as real as you and I but existing only in one man’s imagination, but mentioned and then come back to and revisited later.  Sort of like people in my life that I encounter and then don’t see or hear much from and then encounter again.  I found a way of understanding myself and the  larger world I was entering into through the people of a very small part of that larger world.

Reading Jayber Crow was like encountering Lake Wobegone for the first time, but amplified by a lifetime of experience and growth.  While Keillor could draw me into deeper waters occasionally, he spent most of his time in the shallows splashing and having fun.  Wendell Berry tossed me into deep waters and only rarely could I feel as though me toes were touching bottom.  I’ve wanted to read Berry for years.  I have no idea what else he’s written or how Jayber Crow compares with his larger corpus.  But I know without a doubt that I’m going to search out his other writings to devour now.  I can understand better why he is so highly regarded as both a thinker and a writer.

Berry has an honesty that is breathtaking, a simplicity that is difficult to imagine.  He speaks of people and places and circumstances I have no way of connecting to except through his words on a page, and yet I do feel like I’ve connected with them.  Rarely has the last line of book every hit me so hard as this one (do NOT cheat and start at the end!!).

Jayber Crow is the resident bachelor barber of Port William, a fictional town in Kentucky.  The story traces his life from a young child to an old man, with the many predictable twists and turns  such a road can expect.  Berry’s style is simple and paced.  He’s in no hurry to get you somewhere because the journey is really the important thing.  Along the way there is plenty of time to reflect on love and hate, God and heaven, life and death.  Very few of the Big Picture topics in life are left untreated in this book.  Berry has an eye that is unflinching and honest, yet also charitable whenever possible.  He does not hide his struggles or dwell excessively on moments of triumph.

If the past is how Berry describes it, I’m very sorry I missed it.  If it isn’t how he described it, then I very much hope that he is describing heaven and I’ll have a chance yet to experience it.


One Response to “Book Review – Jayber Crow”

  1. JP Says:

    Hannah Coulter was very good. His collection of essays on Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community is also a very intriguing piece of non-fiction reading.

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