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Paperback The Memory of Old Jack Book

ISBN: 1582430438

ISBN13: 9781582430430

The Memory of Old Jack

(Part of the Port William Series)

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Book Overview

Old Jack, born just after the American Civil War and dying in contemporary times, spends one beautiful September day in Port William, his home since birth, remembering.

The story tells of the most searing moments of Old Jack's life, particularly his debt to his sister Nancy and her husband Ben Feltner, Old Jack's model of what an honorable manhood and strength might be.

"Few novelists treat both their characters and their readers with...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Long Day's Journey

Whether it be in his essays, his poems, or his prose, Wendell Berry has proved himself time and again to be an observant and intelligent writer about life. Having read nearly all of the Port William stories and novels, I came to "The Memory of Old Jack" already somewhat familiar with the main character's life, ready to know more about this model of a man who has played such an integral role in the life of one town. "The Memory of Old Jack" unfolds over the last day of Jack Beechum's life, in September of 1952. Now an old man who doesn't want to feel himself a burden to anyone, he has moved off his farm and taken up residence at the local hotel for the last eight years of his life. He finds that he cannot stay in the present for long; his mind is so overwhelmed with the memories and losses of his past, that he finds himself almost constantly drifting back in time, reliving the best and the worst all over again. Yet the memory mentioned in the title does not belong to Old Jack alone, but to everyone who has been blessed to know him; even after Jack passes, the memory of him and all his quirks will live on in those who preserve his ways. Reading the stories that Wendell Berry has crafted about the town of Port William is like returning home. They are double-edged odes to a simpler time and way of life, at once longing and hopeful, sorrowful and happy. They are also an investment; Berry's stories are usually slow in unfolding, weaving back and forth between past and present, the edges of time blurring in the reader's mind. Yet every trip to this imagined town is more than worth it, every word drawing life from fiction, each memory a finely crafted work of art.

Good for the soul

This book is a treasure and one that I have felt the need to re-read twice in the past five years. What Berry has to say, so quietly and convincingly, about our warped sense of what is important in life is a powerful lesson. This book touches on so many issues about the land, the elderly, our families and our heritage and how we, especially as Americans, miss the importance, beauty and wisdom our past and our earth has to offer us. Berry is a heavy writer. His books are poetic and slow-going, but in the end, you come away with volumes that your soul cries out for you to consider.

Old Jack's journey.

I arrived at this book after first reading Wendell Berry's recent novel, JAYBER CROW (2000). This earlier novel is about an inner journey. Having "lost his life," 92-year-old Jack Beechum finds it again (p. 122) by travelling into the "deepest depths of his memory" (p. 110), the part of Jack "that holds nearly all of him" (p. 9). Born in 1860, Jack was once known as "a dancer, a drinker, a wencher, a fighter" (p. 38), and as a horse breaker (p. 86). Berry also describes Jack as "a limited man," though "satisfied within those limits" (p. 50), and the "incarnation of his solitude" (p. 61).Also set in Port William, Berry's beautiful novel opens in the "first cool morning of September, 1952" (p. 7) with Old Jack's vision turned inward from the "stillness of his old age" (p. 79). "More and more now the world as it is seems to him an apparition of a cloud that drifts, opening and closing, upon the clear, remembered lights and colors of the world as it was" (p. 17). "His mind," Jack thinks, "would do well to settle down and be quiet, for pretty soon he is going up on the hill for the long sleep that most people he knows have already gone off to" (p. 24)."Meditating on his memories" (p. 116), Jack revisits one of "the most powerful themes of his life," the "anger of regret" (p. 31). Among other things, he confronts the silence of his lonely marriage to Ruth, "a silence he was less and less able to bear" (p. 49), and his extramarital love for another woman, Rose. Ruth "remained to him an unknown continent. She offered him no welcome" (p. 45). Jack remembers "they fought it out among those trivial issues that later would show them both the failure of each of them to be what the other desired" (p. 89).Berry's writing here is as honest as the sweat and dirt of the field on his characters' clothes. Like silence, Old Jack is a good teacher. "The modern ignorance," he observes shortly before his death, "is in people's assumption that they can outsmart their own nature. It is in the arrogance that will believe nothing it cannot prove, and respect nothing it cannot understand, and value nothing it cannot sell" (pp. 141-42). G. Merritt

Beautiful, book, full of substance and health

A wonderfull book, subtle and true. Berry's writing reflectsthe land that he writes of - not ostentatious, but brimming with life.You will not find cheap sentiment or flashy colors but you will findrealness in Memory of Old Jack. I highly recommend.

The Memory of Old Jack

Berry' s novel, The Memory of Old Jack, is about belonging to a specific place, over generations, being part of the place, part of its history. The Memory of Old Jack takes place on a single day in 1952, when Jack Beechum, then 92 years old, replays his life like a movie in his head. He is the last of his generation, and his generation was the last to farm in the pre-industrial way, with mules, for example, instead of tractors. This book always gets to me. I wish I knew that man. I wish that man were still alive today. (Then I remember it's supposed to be fiction and that man probably never existed. Not really. But some like him, and not that long ago.)I think what mostly makes me grieve when I read this book, is that the world it describes seems lost to us now. But I keep hoping, somehow, parts of that way of life survive. The first book of Wendell Berry's I read was The Long-legged House, a collection of essays which for the first time in my life made me appreciate being a Kentuckian. All my life, probably because of the time I was living in, it seemed to me that anything worth doing or seeing or being was somewhere else. I was made to see, through the simple eloquent essays in Berry's book, the value of the natural world, what we in Kentucky have that people in places more developed, or more economically viable, or more entertaining, do not have.Read lots of Wendell Berry, it's good for thee.
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