cover image A World Lost

A World Lost

Wendell Berry. Counterpoint LLC, $20 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-887178-22-8

Brilliantly detailed characters and subtle social observations distinguish Berry's unassuming but powerful fifth novel. The T.S. Eliot Award-winning poet, essayist and novelist writes with the authority of a man steeped in the culture of a time and place, again the fictional town of Port William, Ky., familiar to the readers of his previous works. Approaching his 60th birthday, Andy Catlett still struggles to understand the conspiracy of silence that has kept him from the truth about the day in the summer of 1944 when his namesake, his irresponsible, black sheep Uncle Andrew, was murdered. On that fateful afternoon, when his beloved uncle refuses his request to accompany him on his mission to dismantle the outbuildings of a nearby abandoned lead mine, nine-year-old Andy sneaks away from his grandmother and luxuriates in the forbidden pleasure of swimming alone in the farm pond. When he returns, Andy is called into his father's presence and informed that his uncle has been shot. While it is impossible for his elders to shield him from their grief, young Andy is kept in the dark about the circumstances of the tragedy. He is left to go through life bearing a misplaced sense of guilt. Imbued with the textures, dialect and social mores of backwater Kentucky during WWII, the narrative is pulled along by a chain of revelations about the interior lives of the characters. Berry shows us the psychic costs of misplaced family pride and social rigidity, and yet he also celebrates the benevolent blessing of familial love. This is simple, soul-satisfying storytelling, augmented by understated humor and quiet insight. (Oct.)