cover image The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership

The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership

Wendell Berry. North Point Press, $13.95 (146pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-216-7

This collection of six interrelated stories, set in the 1930s through the '70s, portrays life in back-country Kentucky and its county seat, ""a dying town in the midst of a wasting country.'' Wheeler Catlett, the central, unifying figure, is a lawyer whose roots and sensibilities exfoliate from the soil of the surrounding farmland. He is its voice and consciousnessits collective memory; his ``clients,'' who are also his friends, neighbors and kinfolk, provide his cast of characters. In one story, a quiet, strong, dignified farmer copes with the ``great weariness'' of the end of his life. In another, Catlett makes sure that a farm willed to a coldly indifferent heir remains in the hands of the tenant couple whose lifeblood has nurtured it. In a third, a youth comes quietly of age by observing other lives and sensing kindred feelings within himself. The stories are fashioned in a stately, somewhat archaic, prose quite lacking in dramatic force, partly redeemed by a deep feeling for the land and an affectionate respect for the obscure ``little'' people of their purview. (March 30)