The GR book description states that “ In A Place on Earth
the central character is not a person but a place: Port William, Kentucky, and the farmlands and forests that surround it, and the Kentucky River that runs nearby.”
I disagree. The characters stand out more than the place. They are alive and real, and it is they that make the story. I do agree that the fictional town, Port William, is well drawn too. It becomes a place with an identity of its own. Life is slower there, simpler, less hectic. It is a joy to visit the people and the town. This is not to say the townsfolk’s lives are friction free or that they are model citizens. The novel is set during the Second World War and one son is "missing in action" and his wife at home in the town is pregnant. Anyhow, it is the characters' fumbling humanity that makes them so real. In Wendell Berry
’s book real people, with real life problems are beautifully drawn.
There are a multitude of characters. Are they hard to keep straight? No, they are not! For each one, either an incident or a characteristic about them is given. What you are told makes each one unique and special. They become individuals you neither confuse nor forget. Old Jack, for example, always knows what is best and he is terribly obstinate. We meet Jayber Crow, the town barber, and Stanley Gibbs the gravedigger. Each become individuals you wish you knew in person. I don’t see any as being evil, but they fumble and make mistakes. I find them extremely easy to relate to.
I do think though that Wendell Berry is better at drawing men than women; the women do not come alive to the extent the men do. They are rather flat; they lack the foibles of the men; they are too good, too perfect. In this story there are many more male characters than female characters, so this is not a problem.
The prose is lyrical and worthy of thought. Here follow two examples:
“When we have lost it all, we have had what we lost.”
“I don’t believe that when his death is subtracted from his life, I don’t believe it leaves nothing. It leaves his life.”
The audiobook narration by Paul Michael is excellent. He reads slowly. This suits the mode of life in Port William. He is great at drawing the humor, the sadness and the profundity of the lines
. He uses different intonation for different characters, and he does this extremely well. When the war ends there is a party and a couple of friends get seriously drunk. This episode is funny and very well narrated. You simply must laugh; do remember I spoke of the gravedigger Stan!
So far, I think this is my favorite by the author. Maybe it is a bit on the long side. It exists in two editions. In 1983 it was revised and shortened. I think what I listened to was the longer version.
*****************The Memory of Old Jack
5 starsA Place on Earth
4 starsStand By Me
4 starsJayber Crow
4 starsHannah Coulter
2 starsNathan Coulter
2 starsAndy Catlett: Early Travels