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Jayber Crow: A Novel

(Part of the Port William Series)

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Book Overview

"This is a book about Heaven," says Jayber Crow, "but I must say too that . . . I have wondered sometimes if it would not finally turn out to be a book about Hell." It is 1932 and he has returned to... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Jayber Crow

I am always looking for a new surprise and Jayber was chock full of surprises. So much humanity, goodness and family; comfort and joy. Jayber, wherever you are I wish you happiness! Wendell, thank you for this masterpiece.

A Talisman for the Journey

"Jayber Crow" is one of the most unusual and profound novels of this last century. On one level, it is a tale of the unfolding life of Jonah Crow, from his youth into his time of looking back upon the span of his life: it is the story of survival, bravery, acceptance. On this level, Jonah, who becomes Jayber, the barber of his beloved Port William, tells of the people of this town with great tenderness: their strengths and their foolishness (along with his own), and we come to know these townspeople and care for them. Yet on another level, Jayber Crow is a philosophical reflection on the nature of love, God, time, and eternity. As a religious reflection, Wendell Berry, through Jayber, reaches to the core of our faith when he realizes that the only true prayer is "Thy will be done", a prayer that makes him tremble, but also makes him more of a whole person. Indeed, his reflections on the love of God, and the love that comes forth on this planet, is visionary and has the capacity to enlarge and fortify the heart of the reader. Chapter 23, "The Way of Love," is one of the greatest passages I have read. We see a man aching for love and for God, who some nights "in the midst of this loneliness" swings among "the scattered stars at the end of the thin thread of faith alone." We feel for his struggle and his faith gives us faith. Concurrent with his longing for God, and his faith, is his love for Mattie. It is the most beautiful and truest portrayl of love I have seen: it is a love that personifies First Corinthians 13. It is a love that wishes only good and finds hope in knowing it has loved: nothing more. It is a love that does not seek for a payback. Again in Chapter 23, Jayber reflects on a true love that breaks the barriers of time, reminiscent of jani johe webster's poem "loving" from "a spider on the wall": "when the skin / on this body / i now call mine / shall become bone / the very bone / shall cry unto your bone / i love you." So it is with Jayber, who writes, "That is why, in marrying one another, we mortals say 'till death.' We must take love to the limit of time, because time cannot limit it. A life cannot limit it. Maybe to have it in your heart all your life in this world, even while it fails here, is to succeed. Maybe that is enough." Another meaningful comparison between Berry and webster is brought to mind after reading Berry's metaphor of the "the Man in the Well." What happens to a man who, alone for the day in the deep woods, falls into a well? Will he survive? Who is this man in our own lives, and into what wells have we or our loved ones fallen? In webster's prose poem "the weariest river," the narrator's grandmother is locked out of her farm house on a winter's night: again, will she survive, and how? Both metaphors speak to our existential situation, to isolation and to hope. "Jayber Crow" probes the meaning of life and our relationship to ourseves, to one another, and to God. An amazing comparis

One of the Best I've Read

I agree with the reviewers who ranked the book a 5. While it contains several themes, it is first and foremost a spiritual book to me. It's beautiful prose captures the essence of friendship, the virtues of small-town America, the calm and terror of the river, the fragility of the land, and the tug of war between Heaven and Hell. It also details one of the most unusual love stories I have ever read. I have read it twice and am beginning it for a third time. I often go to sleep and wake up thinking about it and its meanings.

Perhaps Berry's Greatest

I bought this book because I like everything that Berry writes, but I wasn't expecting anything too great. A story about a barber in Port William? Seemed a little strange to me, but because it was by Berry, it was worth a read. This book turned out to be a great surprise, true to Jayber Crow's observation that all of the good things in life have come as a surprise. This novel follows the thread of many of the stories we have read about the Port William membership. Many of the familiar characters are here. But it seems that all of the threads of Berry's many works are woven here into a fine and beautiful tapestry. Berry's major themes about stewardship, sense of place, the importance of caring relationships, sense of scale, etc, are all here in a great story of learning, love, and forgiveness. This is a book about much more than just Where. It is also a book about who, what, why, and especially how. Jayber Crow chronicles the changes that modernity and industrialism bring to small town America. Country people were trying to get away from "demanding circumstances." But they "couldn't quite see at the time, or didn't want to know, that it was the demanding circumstances that had kept us together." The changes that are chronicled here apply to urban life as well as rural life. Great neighborhoods and family/neighbor networks were also part of the life of the great pre-industrial cities. A very large part of the answer to modern decay is the restoration of rural life, but we cannot ignore the cities. The question for us is how to follow Jayber and "lay our claim" on a place, rural or urban, and make it "answerable to our lives." Right living, in all of the details laid out by Jayber, is a large part of the answer to modern problems. A barber turns out to be an ingenious stratagem for storytelling and the dispensing of Berry's distilled wisdom. And it is a most unusual and gratifying love story as well!

Wonders happen here.

I have read Wendell Berry's nonfiction, but I am a newcomer to his fictional Port William community. Reading this book is like a visit to a simpler life in rural America. Set in 1986, this novel tells the life story of Jayber Crow (1914- ), orphan, doubting preministerial student, bachelor barber, grave digger, church janitor, and progressive pacifist. Although an ordinary man, Jayber is a truly memorable character who, from his later years, reflects upon his life with clarity and poetic insight. "I am a pilgrim," he says, "but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a staight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order" (p. 133).This book is about many things, but should be read mostly for the sake of experiencing Berry's really fine writing. It is the story of Jayber's unrequitted love for a married woman, Mattie Chatham. It is a fictional memoir about faith, loss, farming, and finding one's place in the world. "I will have to share the fate of this place," Jayber writes about his declining community. "Whatever happens to Port William happens to me" (p. 143). It is also about bearing witness to dying farms and small businesses.Jayber's memoir is filled with page after page of profound insights. For instance, about growing old and loss he writes: "I whisper over to myself the way of loss, the names of the dead. One by one, we lose our loved ones, our friends, our powers of work and pleasure, our landmarks, the days of our allotted time. One by one, the way we lose them, they return to us and are treasured in our hearts. Grief affirms them, preserves them, sets the cost. Finally a man stands up alone, scoured and charred like a burnt tree, having lost everything and (at the cost only of the loss) found everything, and is ready to go" (p. 353). Examining marriage, Jayber says: "I saw too how a marriage, in bringing two people into each other's presence, must include loneliness and error. I imagined a moment when husband and wife realize that their marriage included their faults, that they do not perfect each other, and that in making their marriage they also fail it and must carry to the grave things they cannot give away (pp. 193-4). About the pace of modern life, he observes: "The people are in an emergency to relax. They come for the peace and quiet of the great outdoors. Their eyes are hungry for the scenes of nature. They go very fast in their boats. They stir the river like a spoon in a cup of coffee. They play their radios loud enough to hear above their motors. The look neither left nor right. They can't slow down" (p. 331).Although somber in tone, Jayber's story reveals that wonders do happen in life. Jayber learns we live our lives with questions, the answers to which must be lived out "perhaps a little at at time" (p. 54),
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