cover image Fidelity: Five Stories

Fidelity: Five Stories

Wendell Berry. Pantheon Books, $20 (201pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41633-3

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. (Oct.)