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Port William

Fidelity: Five Stories

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"Berry richly evokes Port William's farmlands and hamlets, and his characters are fiercely individual, yet mutually protective in everything they do. . . . His sentences are exquisitely constructed, suggesting the cyclic rhythms of his agrarian world."--New York Times Book Review.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1992

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About the author

Wendell Berry

303 books3,875 followers
Wendell Berry is a conservationist, farmer, essayist, novelist, professor of English and poet. He was born August 5, 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky where he now lives on a farm. The New York Times has called Berry the "prophet of rural America."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 350 reviews
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,714 followers
December 29, 2018
"They practiced an old-fashioned independence, an old-fashioned generosity, and an old-fashioned fidelity to their word and their friends."

The above quote is one I pulled from one of the five short stories offered here by Wendell Berry, an author I can easily call a favorite after just reading three of his works. The quote, however, truly sums up the people that we meet in all of his books, those of Port William, Kentucky. I first fell in love with Berry’s writing over a year ago when I was introduced to his novel, Jayber Crow. The meditative tone and the simple yet elegant prose spoke directly to me and soothed my soul. I knew then I would eventually read everything Berry had to offer.

In this collection, I met some characters with whom I was already familiar, and met some new ones as well. Even in his short works, Berry is able to convey the true essence of his characters. You will nod your head and feel you understand exactly where they are coming from. There is something about the family unit that is just so beautiful in the people of this small agrarian community. You feel as if perhaps we are sadly missing out on the real importance of family, friendship and community in this day and age. I felt nostalgic for a past that I was never really a part of to begin with, yet felt that I had been somehow because of the power of this writing.

"She had learned to think of herself as living and working at the center of a wonderful provisioning: the kitchen and garden, hog pen and smokehouse, henhouse and cellar of her own household; the little commerce of giving and taking that spoked out along the paths connecting her household to the others; Port William on its ridgetop in one direction, Goforth in its valley in the other; and all this at the heart of the weather and the world."

Berry walks alongside us through acts of admirable and courageous forgiveness, we question and then understand the power of true love, we ache for a man come home from war and welcome him with open arms along with his family, we yearn to allow our loved ones to die with dignity, we stand up for one another at all cost, and we never forget those who may need us in times of catastrophe. I felt a part of this loving and generous community for a few short days and am grateful for it.

This collection would make a wonderful introduction to Berry’s work. It will appeal to those that favor quiet, contemplative writing, perhaps like that found in much of Kent Haruf’s novels. 4.5 stars

"But even the unknown past is present in us, its silence as persistent as a ringing in the ears."
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,298 reviews450 followers
November 7, 2018
I believe I could happily spend the rest of my life reading books written by Wendell Berry to the exclusion of other authors. Picking them up one after the other, then starting all over again. His words have the same effect on me as Willa Cather's writing; quiet, gentle, persuasive, making me feel the world is a better place, and leaving me with a sense of peace.

There are 5 stories in this collection, all within the confines of Port William but spanning the entire history of the community. The first story, "Pray Without Ceasing" and the title story " Fidelity" are the longest and best. The other three "A Jonquil for Mary Penn", "Making It Home", and "Are You All Right" show us the importance of love and acceptance and a sense of home and belonging.

The title story, "Fidelity" is about Burley Coulter. He happens to be my favorite character in the Port William books, and I have long wished he would have his own book, telling me more about his life. This story is it ; his life and death and loves and friends.

"What was best in him, maybe, was the pleasure he took in pleasurable things. We'll not forget his laughter. He looked at the world and found it good." I only hope my own friends can say the same about me when I'm gone. I think the same is true of Wendell Berry.
Profile Image for Laysee.
519 reviews251 followers
October 11, 2016
About a year ago, I was introduced to Wendell Berry who became one of my most beloved authors. I read three of his books (Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, A Place In Time) in a space of three months. Berry writes with a distinctive quietness, a hallowed respect for nature, and an invitation to connectedness. “Fidelity” takes me back to Port William, the rural Kentucky town. There I am restored to the company and comfort of old friends. This is my fourth visit.

Published in 1993, this 200-page book is a collection of five stories. It opens a window to an earlier or later time in the lives of various characters in the Port William farming community. Reading these stories is akin to keeping company with one's best friends and being spoilt again and again by their goodness, graciousness and generosity. The characters return from war, encounter unexpected violence, grow old and die, and know grief in intimate ways. But the overarching theme is fidelity - the bedrock of support anchored in a community of people who love and care for each other. Few authors write about community membership with more understanding, tenderness, lucidity and lyricism than Wendell Berry.

Readers who have read Berry's Port William books will derive pleasure catching up with the Coulters, Catletts, Penns and Rowanberrys. But there is sufficient background in the stories for a reader new to Port William to know and like them. For me, it is great to be back in Port William.

Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book558 followers
November 6, 2018
This book of short stories is written by Wendell Berry, a philosopher, poet, and purveyor of human souls. If you have not ever read any of his work, you are missing something remarkable. This collection would be an excellent place to begin.

Pray Without Ceasing is the story of one friend killing another, a senseless murder and one that might destroy two families instead of just two men. But in the fictional, but very real, world of Port William, people overcome the baser side of themselves and the result is plaintively moving. Berry writes so purely and so beautifully that he can make me weep over a short story as if I had spent much more than a brief hour and sixty pages of reading.

”People sometimes talk of God’s love as if it’s a pleasant thing. But it’s terrible, in a way. Think of all it includes. It included Thad Coulter, drunk and mean and foolish, before he killed Mr. Feltner, and it included him afterward.”

Process that.

A Jonquil for Mary Penn is another example of Berry’s ability to see beyond the surface and explore the depths of a person and their loves and insecurities. He might be the best at describing farm life and making you feel the blasts of cold and the joys of spring of any author I have ever read, for he captures in equal measure the isolation and the deep sense of community, and the personal joy of love.

At times she knew with a joyous ache that she completed him, just as she knew with the same joy that she needed him and he completed her. How beautiful a thing it was, she thought to be a half, to be completed by such another half. When had there ever been such a yearning of halves toward each other, such a longing, even in quarrels, to be whole? The wholeness came upon them as a rush of light around them and within them, so that she felt they must be shining in the dark.

Making it Home is the return of the soldier from a foreign war, the unreality of finding home unchanged when the man has been changed irrevocably. There is nothing sad, but something very poignant about this story, and I finished it with tears swimming in my eyes and echoes of The Prodigal Son vibrating in my head.

Tell your Granny to set on another plate. For we have our own that was gone and is come again.

Fidelity . I know why the book took the name of this story. It is the story that encapsulates all this book is about; the people, the place, the sense of belonging, the heart of friendship and family. Burley Coulter is dying, the same Burley Coulter we saw at fifteen on the day Thad Coulter shot Ben Feltner. He is a man who belongs to the natural world of Port William and to its people in a way that few others do.

Loving him, wanting to help him, they had given him over to “the best of modern medical care”--which meant, as they now saw, that they had abandoned him.

Too late, they realize that Burley should have been allowed to go back to the land, in his own place, among his own people. I particularly loved this story, because it is about not only letting go, but how we let go, and I think that is a dilemma that many of us struggle with in our lives, as we grapple with the machinery that keeps us alive past our usefulness or keeps us locked in a sterile room with limited visiting hours, instead of resting in our own bed surrounded by loved ones.

He has disappeared into his people and his place, not to be found in this world again forever.

That is an eulogy that any one of us could be proud of.

Are You Alright? The final story is just a lovely vignette that ties up the book and puts it to rest. I think it is significant because everyone is alright, even those who are not, because they are in their places, surrounded by friends and family, understood and forgiven. They are fine, because they fit into a world that they love and that loves them right back. They have substance and someone who cares enough to brave the blackwater to see if they are alright.

I would like to say a thank you to openlibrary.org for making this work available to me at no charge.
Profile Image for Wyndy.
194 reviews81 followers
November 8, 2018
“When I stand in the road that passes through Port William, I am standing in the strata of my history that go down through the known past into the unknown; the blacktop rests on state gravel, which rests on county gravel, which rests on the creek rock and cinders laid down by the town when it was still mostly beyond the reach of the county; and under the creek rock and cinders is the dirt track of the town’s beginning, the buffalo trace that was the way we came.”

This powerful collection of five short stories serves as my introduction to the beautiful writing of Wendell Berry and his fictional rural town called Port William, Kentucky. This town has a long history of farming and vibrates with decades of characters any reader will instantly recognize and yearn for, whether you’re Southern or not. Berry is a lifelong Kentucky farmer, writer and activist, and his gentle, sensitive prose takes us back to a time long gone and washes away all the ugly in the world . . . for a few hours at least. I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by some shared experience or distant memory kindled by these pages. There are so many layers of humanness here - desperation, forgiveness, humility, gratitude, honor, fortitude, kindness - and so many layers of landscape - furrowed fields, sunlit ridgetops, barbed wire fences, bullet-torn flesh, clouds of darkness.

From my dictionary: “Fidelity: faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.” The perfect title for these stories and these people. This is not a book for plot junkies. But I have found a new author to love - especially for those times when my soul needs a lift.

Profile Image for Laurie.
345 reviews8 followers
June 17, 2009
"A Jonquil for Mary" -- captured that moment when a young wife realizes her husband truly loves her, truly sees her -- I loved that story's ending. All five stories in this too small collection show Berry's gift of painting the ordinary lives of people with compassion and fullness -- "Making it Home" was another favorite -- oh they are all worth reading more than once.
Profile Image for Tsung.
268 reviews67 followers
May 14, 2021
It’s been four years since I last visited Port William. With all the things going on in the world right now, Port William is a welcome respite from all the craziness. Although it is a haven, it has its own share of disappointments, misfortune and tragedy. Yet two things characterise and hold this small fictitious Kentucky town together, love and community.

Pray without Ceasing

And in some of the people of the town and the community surrounding it, one of the characteristic disease of the twentieth century was making its way: the suspicion that they would be greatly improved if they were someplace else.

Bad times and bad decisions lead to devastating consequences for two best buddies, Ben Feltner and Thad Coulter. The tragedy seems futile and meaningless at first, but its significance is only apparent years later in grandson, Andy Catlett, the product of forgiveness and reconciliation between the two families.

My grandfather made a peace here that has joined many who would otherwise have been divided. I am the child of his forgiveness.

A Jonquil for Mary Penn

A lesson on how just a simple thought by husband Elton and a thoughtful act by Josie Tom makes all the difference to Mary Penn.

Making it home

War has a profound effect on individuals. This is a poignant tale of a simple yet deeply reflective journey back home for returning soldier Art Rowanberry.

”I am not a stranger but I am changed. Now I know a mighty power that can pass over the earth and make it strange. There are people, where I have been, that won’t know their places when they get back to them. Them that live to get back won’t be where they were when they left.”


The title story is all about relationships. Perhaps Burley Coulter should have married Kate Helen Branch. Still Burley and Danny always had their father-son relationship. This was also a remarkable story of community, how so many came together to support one of their own.

Their answer to Detective Bode: ”But, my dear boy, you don’t eat or drink the law, or sit in the shade of it or warm yourself by it, or wear it, or have your being in it. The law exists only to serve.” ”Serve what?” ”Why, all the many things that are above it. Love.”

Are You All Right?

Andy recalls a time when he and Elton go to check if the Rowanberrys were safe during a flood. It is another story of community.

All these stories could be summed up as fidelity or faithfulness. But memory features heavily throughout and perhaps fidelity could be the faithful preservation of those memories.

There was brief mention in Fidelity of something that could spell the end of Port William. Like the old, the young were leaving. The old were dying without successors… I hope Port William will continue to survive.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,106 reviews748 followers
April 8, 2021
This book is a collection of five short stories by Wendell Berry. The setting of all the stories is the fictional Fort William community in Kentucky.

Pray Without Ceasing is a story is being recalled from earlier times of a distraught man killing his friend. It had the potential of the beginning of a Hatfield-McCoy sort of family feud. But cooler heads prevailed, and the Fort William community has been peaceful ever since.
"People sometimes talk of God’s love as if it’s a pleasant thing. But it’s terrible, in a way. Think of all it includes. It included Thad Coulter, drunk and mean and foolish, before he killed Mr. Feltner, and it included him afterward.”
A Jonquil for Mary Penn is a story that sees beyond the surface and explores the depths of a person and their loves and insecurities.
At times she knew with a joyous ache that she completed him, just as she knew with the same joy that she needed him and he completed her. How beautiful a thing it was, she thought to be a half, to be completed by such another half. When had there ever been such a yearning of halves toward each other, such a longing, even in quarrels, to be whole? The wholeness came upon them as a rush of light around them and within them, so that she felt they must be shining in the dark.
Making it Home is the story of a two day walk of a soldier returning from a foreign war. The story contrasts his finding home unchanged while the man himself has been greatly changed.
Tell your Granny to set on another plate. For we have our own that was gone and is come again.
Fidelity is the story from which the book takes its title. It's long enough to be considered a novella. The story encapsulates the sense of belonging and the heart of friendship and family. This story deals with the problem of the role of modern medicine that can keep dying people alive longer than perhaps is wise.
He has disappeared into his people and his place, not to be found in this world again forever.
Are You Alright? The final story ties up the book with a story that puts it to rest. It tells of checking up on those who have been isolated by high water from a flood. It's an appropriate end to this collection of stories by assuring us that everyone is in their place and at peace.
Profile Image for Mmars.
525 reviews99 followers
February 2, 2015
Oh my. The first story in this collection “Pray Without Ceasing” has made me a Berry fan for life. Thus far I had only read Hannah Coulter and was mildly impressed. But for readers who appreciate the long story and novella form, this story is a must read. The set up of theme and how it spun itself out was absolutely stunning.

In this story, Andy Catlett’s grandmother tells him how his great-grandfather, Ben Feltner, was murdered in 1912 by his friend Thad Coulter. (If you have read any of Berry’s Port William stories you will know names – Feltner, Coulter, and Catlett.) Thad Coulter, at the age of 72 has just lost his farm, and is a desperate man who in a drunken state turns to the one person he hopes to hear him out. Ben listens, but eventually turns him out, hoping to talk to Thad after he sobers up. But obviously things do not turn work out that way.

The story is really about how a close-knit community lives, dies and continues to live together over and during time. How ancestors were and still are. How instead of creating generational enmity, the actions of one or a few can create generational tolerance and forgiveness. How tragedy can be overcome rather than expanded upon. A lesson as important today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.

This story was first published in The Southern Review, Fall 1992.

The other long story in this book, “Fidelity” is not about the fidelity of marriage, but that of family, friendship and community. In this story, Burley Coulter, one of Port William’s biggest characters and social mainstays is dying in a hospital, one town over. His nephew, Nathan Coulter, knowing that this is not how Burley would have wanted to finish his life, steals Burley away in the middle of the night to allow him to die in amongst the land and trees that he loved. The story plays out within the community on the one line Nathan told his wife, Hannah. “If anyone asks, you only know that I went to Louisville.” Of course, this is illegal activity, and a detective is set upon the case. How the story plays out is absolutely delightful, and typical of Port William’s tight-knit community.

Only the last story left me unimpressed. The two middle stories were short and heart warming tales of love and well, fidelity.

Profile Image for Laura.
828 reviews253 followers
December 5, 2018
If you still haven’t read Berry, you really are missing out on something that makes you better. All the emotions are present. Family and community, life and death at its best when Berry shares it with you.
Author 24 books61 followers
January 10, 2018
I've come back to these stories with renewed gratitude and deep admiration many times. They offer a valuable example of what it means to bring together love of language, love of land, and the practical, kindly understanding of people one has come to love over years of involvement in each other's lives. I read them again recently with a group of very well-read adults, none of whom, to my surprise, had encountered them before. It was a great pleasure to rediscover with them the people of Port William whose knowing of one another is such a poignant, timely reminder of what it means to know and be known. And to enjoy with them particular sentences and phrases that add a new brush stroke to my own awareness of what grace is available in ordinary things: I love the way Berry contrasts rigid institutional protocols with "the larger, looser, darker order of merely human love." And how much is communicated among friends with few words because they know and can trust each other, even if that trust has to be repaired from time to time. It's a healing book--a little like the parables about the "kingdom of heaven" that is already, in some sense, within and among us, even in our brokenness.
Profile Image for Camie.
914 reviews194 followers
October 20, 2018
I've never been a short story fan but I do like Wendell Berry's work. As usual he's writing about the down home folks of Port William, Kentucky, with a theme of supporting friends and family along with big doses of the vast appreciation that they have as farmers and hunters for both farm and forest.
Read for On the Southern Literary Trail 11/18 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Jeff Shelnutt.
Author 5 books41 followers
December 10, 2015
I'm fairly new to the "Port William Membership." I've read enough to know the primary actors and a few of their stories. Still, these five short short tales that serve to fill in gaps left in Berry's novels can easily stand alone. They have, if I'm not playing too loose with words, enlarged my soul and enriched my mind.

Berry continually explores the life and death cycle--its joys and griefs, its momentary losses and permanent gains. He traces the inter-generational connectedness that we share with one another through our common experiences and the memories these experiences produce. I can't close the last page of a Wendell Berry book without experiencing similar emotions each time. These include joy and grief, and contentment and resignation as concerns life, love and labor.

The story of Burly Coulter's death was especially poignant. It probes and prods the monster of modern medical care, asking tough questions: Is keeping someone alive when the body is obviously shutting down ultimately beneficial or harmful? Who has the right to make that choice? Is it necessary for a short hospital stay to be so expensive that it can drain a person's life savings in a few days? These too easily become legal matters.

"But, my dear boy, you don't eat or drink the law, or sit in the shade of it or warm yourself by it, or wear it, or have your being in it. That law exists only to serve."

"Serve what?"

"Why, all the many things that are above it. Love."

And love does not always cling; sometimes it lets go.

I appreciate Berry's habit of emphasizing the seemingly mundane in human existence and extracting a lesson from it. I also laud his ability to keep conversations realistic. Two sentences is a lot for one of Berry's character to utter. Yet, those few words are impregnated with unutterable depth and resolve. These are felt more than heard, conveyed through ordinary action.

And then there's the silence...What better place to "hear" it than in the woods. Underlying all of the simple, elegant detail of the natural world scattered throughout the stories is the silence. It abides. It also envelops those who will take the time to recognize it. It is the calming satisfaction that all will be well, and relays (at least to me) that death is swallowed up in life.
584 reviews26 followers
September 5, 2017
I wish I knew how to link reviews. My Goodreads friend, Laysee, writes exactly how I feel about this collection of short stories. Long a fan of Wendell Berry, this book reunited me with people whom I have come to know, love and admire. I think my reading may have been enhanced by already knowing some of the backstories of the characters. However, each story has its own merit.

This was my second reading of the collection. It was selected in a book group and the discussion was interesting. People loved Berry's ideals and his writing style. There was much diversity in what spoke to people individually. They all made connections. Great author. I highly recommend reading his works.
Profile Image for Terris.
1,065 reviews50 followers
August 8, 2019
I so enjoyed these stories by Wendell Berry. I think it is a good one to start with if you want to begin reading Berry's writings. These five short stories, although separate, some how combine to give a kind of background of the different characters that are included in his books and tell how they are all related and connected. I had previously read "Hannah Coulter" and did not enjoy it, although Berry seems to get rave reviews from so many. But I think I did not understand the connections and the community that is the foundation of his tales. After reading this book, I would be happy to read, and also recommend, Wendell Berry's writings :)
Profile Image for Peggy.
164 reviews
March 26, 2021
“They practiced an old-fashioned independence, an old-fashioned generosity, and an old-fashioned fidelity to their word and their friends.”

— Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry

I love revisiting the membership of Port William, Ky. These folks have become like family. Wonderful stories so beautifully written by one of very favorite authors, Wendell Berry
Profile Image for Ginny Marie.
Author 1 book5 followers
January 8, 2009
Have you ever read a book only to envy the author's talent? If only I could be as wonderful a writer as Wendell Berry. The simplicity of his words evoke beautiful images of both scenery and inner beauty of the people he writes about. The five stories in this book are all set near Port William, a fictional town in the farmland of Kentucky. The characters are all connected in some way, just as in real small town life. The faithfulness of the characters are examined in each story; faithfulness to a father, wife, friend, or even one's self.

"And there on the ridgetop in the low sunlight they danced the dance of women laughing, bending and straightening, raising and lowering their hands, swaying and stepping with their heads back." (from "A Jonquil for Mary Penn")

In your mind's eye, can't you just see the above image? Fidelity is full of such images. Perhaps one of the reasons I loved this book is because the descriptions of these families correspond with the images I have of my father's childhood. He was raised in a very small town, worked on a farm, and had strong family ties. Or perhaps I am reminded of my own childhood in a rural community.

The last paragraph of "Making It Home," in its simplicity, brought tears to my eyes. '"Honey, run yonder to the house. Tell your granny to set on another plate. For we have our own that was gone and has come again."'

I am usually not a fan of short story collections. These short stories, however, captured my heart.
Profile Image for Carrie ReadingtoKnow.
400 reviews31 followers
January 8, 2022
Hmm. This is my first Wendell Berry. It won't be my last (because I have another on my shelf awaiting attention) but I'm not quite certain how i feel about Berry. Poetical. Brilliant with words. I kind of liked it like I liked Willa Cather -- not enjoying the story as much as the writing. My book club read this for the month of January so I was offered the chance for the introduction and I'm not sorry for it...just still ruminating on it, I suppose.
Profile Image for Mark.
292 reviews6 followers
December 7, 2008
Five of Wendell Berry's short stories collected together in one place. "A Jonquil for Mary Penn" in my mind is one of the most beautiful stories in the English language. I've never read anyone who can make a sad story sing the way Mr. Berry does. If you have never read any of Wendell Berry, this is as good a place as any to begin.
Profile Image for Krista.
76 reviews7 followers
May 9, 2020
How does Wendell Berry do it? These short yet poignant stories are incredibly moving. I appreciate how we see true character in each character.
Profile Image for Rachel Watson.
39 reviews
January 10, 2016
Fidelity is set in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, a place so compellingly simple in its friendships and family ties and its connection to the earth and how it sustains us. Each one of these five stories explores another aspect of this comforting world, wrapping the reader in its gentle embrace. If you are looking for stories of love, loyalty and the value of hard work, look no further than this collection by Wendell Berry..
Profile Image for Scott Meadows.
211 reviews8 followers
December 7, 2021
To belong to one another, to God, to belong to where you are. To live, love, and have your being where you are.

Wendell has put together a group of people I so deeply love and yet will never meet. Their depth of character, morals, and unity with one another are something that will forever astound. It’s impossible to spend much time in Port William without learning to love its people and in turn the stories and people about you in life.

sometimes i can’t believe how much my affections are moved to love these characters i’ve never met, not because of any special power or interesting fact about them. just because of who they are. there’s a tgc article out there about why wendell berry makes people better counselors and pastors, and i can only hope that i get enough of it to apply towards ministry.

Fidelity is a compilation of short stories from multiple perspectives. I believe that it will be number 3 in line of favorites, starting with Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter. These short stories would remain good out of context, but I believe that they will be felt and loved to their depth of read after the others that you may know and care for the names mentioned.
Profile Image for Celia.
1,229 reviews165 followers
November 23, 2021
Fidelity: faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.

Very beautiful word; these stories represent the concept absolutely.

Pray Without Ceasing: Daughter to Father.

A Jonquil for Mary Penn: Wife to Husband.

Making It Home: A soldier to his country and home town.

Fidelity: Son to Father.

Are You All Right?: A Friend to a Friend.

Wendell Berry is known for his descriptions of life in fictional town, Port William Kentucky. The characters in Fidelity reintroduce us to characters described in the novels he had written before. I had not read Wendell Berry. I will go back to book 1 and learn more about the townfolk in order!!

Next book: Nathan Coulter

4 stars
Profile Image for Maribeth Barber.
Author 1 book39 followers
April 15, 2019
This slim little volume of stories certainly whetted my appetite for more tales of Port William! The only reason I'm giving it four stars is because I felt a couple of the stories ended too abruptly. Otherwise, I loved it--especially the one about Burley and Danny. WOW. I can't wait to read more Wendell Berry.
May 15, 2023
I really like Wendell Berry’s writing style and choice of subject- he blends together poetry and prose quite well, especially if you enjoy romanticism and nature poems
Profile Image for Roxy.
290 reviews6 followers
July 6, 2019
I always, always enjoy visiting Port William. The title story was my favorite.
Profile Image for Reid.
916 reviews65 followers
November 1, 2018
I have a serious soft spot for the writing of Wendell Berry. Some may think him a bit sentimental, and that's probably fair, but he writes with such love for his characters and the land in which they live that it is hard to resist him; I have given up trying.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novels and short stories of Wendell Berry, they take place in the town of Port William and thereabouts. These are fictional locales in Kentucky, though they are very similar to where Berry has been a farmer and resident for many years. They are farmers, merchants, barbers, churchgoers, hunters, fishers, wives, mothers, husbands, fathers, and all manner of related and unrelated family. The most salient feature they share is a deep and abiding love for where they live and the people there. While not all are kind and generous, for the most part they are decent people who wish each other well. (The first story in this collection may seem to give the lie to this assessment, but you will no doubt find that decency wins the day even there).

Now, you might well say that all of this seems a bit far-fetched, that the ways in which these plain folks interact is unrealistic, perhaps even mythical. If that is the case, I think you may have missed the point. Port William is an allegorical place with an allegorical connection to the reality most of us inhabit, an intentionally stark contrast to the loud, boisterous, thrusting, heedless way in which most of us live our lives. While I have no desire to take my place in a rural paradise nor to make my living from the soil, I do wish with all my heart that we could simply treat each other with respect, kindness, and consideration. This is what the stories of Wendell Berry tell us is both possible and the most desirable outcome of all.

While I loved all of these stories, I do have to say that the title story, while a wonderful tale in the spirit of all the rest, devolves at one point into a rather puzzling screed bordering on libertarianism concerning the health care system. As a nurse, I was particularly distressed that the people in the story believed that the medical care system would not have taken their wishes into account when it came to the end-of-life care of their family member. I strongly suspect little research was done for this story and, had it been, Berry would have discovered that health care personnel are highly sensitized to the tension that exists between giving responsible care and overdoing it. The Coulters and Branches would have found ample advocates had they expressed reservations.

Still, this is a valuable addition to the pantheon and, as Berry ages, new entries into the oeuvre are exceedingly welcome. Long live Port William!
11 reviews3 followers
December 9, 2012
I decided to give this book as a Christmas present to all my brothers and sisters this year . . . because it touched me. It contains five short stories, beautifully written, by Wendell Berry, “an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer,” according to his Wikipedia article.

All five stories are set in a fictional small-town/rural Kentucky community.

The title story in the book—the fourth story in the book—is by far the longest. But I found it profoundly thought-provoking about various cultural assumptions many of us make (in that story’s particular case—assumptions about medical care, family values, death and dying).

But whether you read the book for its cultural insights (there are many throughout the book), its sharply drawn and intimately revealed characters, its beauty of language, or the fact that it is likely to make you cry (or, at least, bring a tear to your eye; it made me cry) . . . I have no doubt you will enjoy it.
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