THAT DISTANT LAND: The Collected Stories
Wendell Berry, . . Shoemaker & Hoard, $26 (464pp) ISBN 978-1-59376-027-4
Set in a small Kentucky farming village, this collection of Berry's Port William stories illuminates the evolution of rural American life over the course of the 20th century. In 23 stories, Berry chronicles Port William from the 1880s to the 1980s, evoking the connectedness of the small town's denizens to each other and to the land. In "A Consent," a memorable auction of home-baked cakes launches a romance between farmer Tol Proudfoot and Miss Minnie Quinch, the schoolteacher who becomes his bride. Their courtship, marriage and life together form the backbone of several other stories—in "A Half Pint of Old Darling," set during Prohibition, Miss Minnie goes on a brief but garrulous bender. "Nearly to the Fair" describes how Tol and Miss Minnie "went easy into the modern world" with their first motor car, a Model A coupe in which they're never as comfortable as they are with their horses. The most touching story in the collection is "Fidelity," about a terminally ill 82-year-old farmer whose son kidnaps him from the hospital so he can die on the land he worked and loved. Though many stories move at a glacial pace, Berry's writing is graceful, poignant and compassionate, and his feel for the inner lives of his quirky rural characters makes for many memorable portraits. A valuable work of literature and historical set piece, this collection vividly captures the fabric of a kind of all-American life.
Reviewed on: 04/05/2004