Title: Jayber Crow
Author: Wendell Berry
Synopsis: Jayber 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)