January 10, 2013

Review: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow
Jayber Crow: A Novel (Port William)

About the Book:

Jayber Crow is the story of a man's love for his community and his abiding and unrequited love for Mattie Chatham, a good woman who had too early made one bad mistake. Sent to an orphanage at the age of ten, Jayber grows up knowing of loneliness and want, and learns how to be a watchful observer of human goodness and frailty. With the flood of 1937 he returns to his native Port William to become the town's barber. Slowly, patiently, the observer becomes participant.

My Thoughts:

I was recommended this book by my cousin. He said it was a great story about the south. Which is very true! Really this story is a love song for the American small town in early to middle 20th century. Written as a fictional autobiography by Jayber himself; he is an old man looking back at his life and all the changes he went through and all the changes America went through. Jayber is a pretty quiet fellow, always was and always will be, so he spends a great deal of time in his own head. He has a unique way of interacting with the world, as he's a barber and thereby privy to loads of details about everyone. Even details they may not realize he knows! "Around here it is hard for a interesting secret to stay a secret." Such is the life of a barbershop, where customers come and go, loafers come and stay, and the conversation is always ongoing. Really, his barbershop is the meeting place in town where all the men gather and where news is spread. It's not a place for women, except on certain days when they'll bring their boys in for haircuts. But these small town farmers are worse gossips than women sometimes! No one topic is sacred. Still they are all neighbors and friends (even the people they don't like) and are willing to help out in situations should they be needed. Especially if you've got some whiskey or beer or moonshine to offer as reward! 

This book is not a riveting tale, it's quiet and gentle most of the time. Jayber speaks of his childhood near Port William, moves away during his teen years, and then tells about his journey back again in his twenties. He sets up his barbershop and thus begins the most fun chapters. What I really enjoyed about this book were the characters. In fact, Port William and the surrounding area are almost characters themselves since Jayber knows all the hills and valley's and paths really well. But the people who populate his life, their stories are what make this story so delightful! We learn each person by name, what kind of life they lead, and how Jayber views them. So onward we go as we watch Jayber and his friends getting older and all the changes that are wrought through two world wars, a Depression, the onslaught of modern machinery and all that brings with it. Jayber himself struggles with who he is and where he wants his life to go. 

It may not sound like a very exciting book, and it's not really. But it gently sweeps you into these peoples lives and soon you're concerned over their children with them and worried how the flood or drought is going to affect their farms. Before you know it, you're invested in what's going to happen next! :) I truly enjoyed my time in Port William very much. The only quibble I have is that around halfway through, it kind of got bogged down a little bit in some of Jayber's escapades (yes, he did have a few of those) and there were a few chapters where I sped read through them. But it only lasted a few chapters and then picked back up, so it didn't bug me overmuch. The end result being that I enjoyed this delightful little story filled with stories! You should try it too. :)

A Favorite Passage:
"But also Bill Thacker, walking home over the Katy's Branch bridge, blundered into the railing and mistook it for his yard gate. Finding that he could not unfasten it, he climbed over and fell fifteen feet into a field that Webster Page had plowed for corn. Fortunately, the backwater had just withdrawn from the bottom at that place, and instead of breaking his neck Bill only made a deep impression in about a foot and a half of mud. The mud was so soft and comfortable that he took a good nap before he got up. This story would have been hard to learn except that Bill Thacker himself thought so highly of it that he walked to town the next Saturday afternoon to tell it on himself."

Toodle-loo kangaroos! :D


  1. Sounds like a really sweet story! I'm going to try to find it!
    thanks for sharing your review.

    1. You are very welcome! :) And it is a sweet story. The characters are so much fun!


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