Book Review: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Title: Jayber Crow
Author: Wendell Berry
Genre: Literary fiction
Publisher: Counterpoint
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: I never put up a barber pole or a sign or even gave my shop a name.

I have praised the author Wendell Berry so often here on my blog that I am afraid you, my readers, will weary of hearing his name. (If, by some chance, you have missed those ravings, you can read a concise declaration of my love for the man here.) At the risk of some of you thinking, “Oh, here she goes again!” – I am going to tell you just a bit about this perfect, perfect book, Jayber Crow.

For those of you who have read any of the other Port William novels or stories, you know that Jayber Crow is the town barber. He has had a unique place in the community – a listener to secrets, a keeper of stories, an observer of the best and worst of Port William. This book is, simply put, his story. At the end of his life, he looks back over its years, his travels away from and back to the Port William area, and also his personal journey to become the man he should be. It is, to put it as simply as possible, a truly beautiful book.

And, Bryan: you have asked me in the past which of Berry’s books you should start with. This is the one, my friend.

“I’d had the idea, once, that if I could get the chance before I died I would read all the good books there were. Now I began to see that I wasn’t apt to make it. This disappointed me, for I really wanted to read them all. But it consoled me in a way too; I could see that if I got them all read and had no more surprises in that line, I would have been sorry.” ~ p. 47

“Now I have had most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was cut completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led.” ~ p. 66

“Hate succeeds. This world give plentiful scope and means to hatred, which always finds its justifications and fulfills itself perfectly in time by the destruction of the things of time. That is why war is complete and spares nothing, balks at nothing, justifies itself by all that is sacred, and seeks victory by everything that is profane. Hell itself, the war that is always among us, is the creature of time, unending time, unrelieved by any light of hope.

But love, sooner or later, forces us out of time. It does not accept that limit. Of all that we feel and do, all the virtues and all the sins, love alone crowds us at last over the edge of the world. For love is always more than a little strange here. It is not explainable or even justifiable. It is itself the justifier. We do not make it. If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it. It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive. It is in the world but is not altogether of it. It is of eternity. It takes us there when it most holds us here.” ~ p. 249

“I am a man, who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say, ‘Good-good-good-good-good!’ like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit. I am a man of losses, regrets, and griefs. I am an old man full of love. I am a man of faith.” ~ p. 356

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12 Responses to Book Review: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

  1. Beth Hoffman says:

    I’ve always loved Wendell Berry’s writings. Terrific review, Carrie!

  2. Jeane says:

    It sounds wonderful. My dad has always been recommending Wendell Barry to me- very highly- and I don’t know why I keep putting off reading him. I think this is one of his favorites, too.

  3. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    I read something about Berry recently and immediately thought of you. Another great review!

  4. I still have yet to read anything by Wendell Berry, but this sounds like a great place to start. Off to find a copy . . . Thank you for the great review, Carrie!

  5. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    Just keep gushing and one of these days I’m going to do it! In fact, you have inspired me to go see what they have at the library on audio…

  6. Arti
    Twitter: Arti_Ripples
    says:

    Thank you for introducing Wendell Berry to me. I admit I haven’t read any of his works (maybe being in Canada is an excuse?) but now will seek them out. ;)

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Arti – I hope you can get your hands on his work up in Canada!