Remembering

By Wendell Berry

1,284 ratings - 4.01* vote

Remembering takes place in a single day in 1976. Andy Catlett, at the bottom of a deep dark depression since losing his hand in a farming accident, is alone in San Francisco, and takes a long walk through the walking street ofthe city. By the end of the day, when he has flown home to Port William, Kentucky, Andy is on his way to becoming whole again.

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Book details

Paperback, 124 pages
September 1st 1990 by North Point Press

(first published 1988)

Original Title
Remembering
ISBN
0865473315 (ISBN13: 9780865473317)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Laysee

Over the years, Port William, a close-knit farming community in Kentucky, has become my favorite place to revisit in literary fiction. Remembering is the story of Andy Catlett, who was just a youth when I last met him in The Memory of Old Jack. In 1952, Andy was leaving for college, torn between his devotion to the farm and the lure of city life that promised a future denied his forbears who tilled the land. I wanted to know what became of Andy and the story I read made me ache for him as I would a kin.

Instead of Port William, Remembering is set in San Francisco where Andy, now an agricultural journalist, is attending a farming conference. I grieved when I learned that Andy has lost his right hand in a farming accident and along with it, his self-worth. The trauma of losing a hand has left him angry and bitter, and estranged him from his wife, children, and himself. It was heartbreaking to step into the dark abyss of his depression. The loss of a body part understandably violates the physical and psychological integrity of a person and threatens his or her sense of identity.

The story unfolds in the realms of Andy’s thought life and the introspection is emotionally draining on the reader. In Andy’s disdain for the professors of agriculture at the conference who extolled the wonders of monstrous machinery but had never farmed a day in their lives, one sensed Berry’s indignation at the encroachment of modern technology and its threat to the sustainability of small family farms.

Remembering takes place over a day in 1976 as Andy wrestles with his distant self. He remembers with gratitude the families in Port William (e.g., the Feltners, Coulters, Rowanberrys) that have significantly shaped his values and beliefs. ‘On the verge of his journey, he is thinking about choice and chance, about the disappearance of chance into choice, though the choice be as blind as chance. That he is who he is and no one else is the result of a long choosing, chosen and chosen again.’ For Andy, it is a gift to claim and reclaim membership in the fellowship of Port William stalwarts. He slowly finds his way home to Port William and to himself.

As always, Berry’s poetic prose shines. There is no plot and not much of a story. However, into the darkness of Andy’s agony, Berry’s ineffable writing brings light and healing, the comfort that readers have come to expect from having been at Port William.

Sara

I was back in Port William, Kentucky to visit with Andy Catlett today, and sadly found him not doing well. At the outset of this novel, we find that Andy has lost his right hand and is having a great deal of difficulty dealing with the loss.

...much of his thought now had to do with the comparison of times, as if he were condemned forever to measure the difference between his life when he was whole and his life now.

Our lives do so often divide between today and yesterday, before and after. In Andy’s case there is a physical manifestation of this divide, but sometimes it is just a psychological or emotional one. For me, it was the loss of my mother that left me in much this same frame of mind, always comparing my life that was whole with her in it and never quite whole without her.

As he struggles, we are taken, through his memory, back to earlier days and happier times, and we watch him gather strength from the core of who he is and all the people who have contributed over time to who he is. I have grown to love Andy Catlett over the years, so his tragedy felt very real and very sad to me.

Amidst his contemplation of life, Andy, via Berry, also considers the changes that have come to the land and to farming and farmers in particular. It is a recurring and important theme with Berry, the destruction of the land and the loss of a way of life that diminishes us all.

Andy began to foresee a time when everything in the country would be marketable and everything marketable would be sold, when not one freestanding tree or household or man or woman would remain.

What Andy grapples with is his faith: his faith in himself, his life and his ability to find something precious still existing in what seems now like a half-life.

His life has never rested on anything he has known beforehand--none of it. He chose it before he knew it, and again afterwards. And then he failed his trust and his choice, and now has chosen again, again on trust.

If you have never read Wendell Berry before, don’t start with this one. Start with Hannah Coulter or Jayber Crow. Get to know these people, so that the emotions you will feel for Andy will be developed over time and so that the references to other characters will feel like mentions of old friends. This book is copyright 2008; the first book, Nathan Coulter was copyrighted in 1960, and there is some of the best writing on the planet in between. Take a trip to Port William; I promise you that you will want to revisit time and time again.

Laityfamily

This book spoke to my soul. I read it in two days. I wish I had known before reading the book that it is part of a series. I will now be starting at the beginning and I can promise you I will be deeply sucked into this series until I've read every book.

Roxy

As with my every visit to Port William, I am transported to a place similar to my maternal Grandmother's time and home. I feel I know them all.

John

Berry has packed a lot into this little book. I found the book to be one of the most psychologically challenging books I've encountered. Yet the second half is one of the most rewarding I've read. All in all, this is a great, but very different addition to the Port William Membership novels.

We meet Andy Catlett in the dark night of his soul. He's reeling from the trauma of having lost his hand in a farming accident. His life has spiraled out of control after he betrays his hand and his very existence by being unable to be the person he was. Catlett is in a dark, dark place and has nearly alienated everyone he loves, and in fact has alienated himself from life itself. Existence has no significance for him, and he in fact only seems to be living on anger and self-loathing. I've not read other reviews who have suffered as I have, in reading through this, so perhaps my perspective here is the minority. I had a hard time reading through this--especially all the details about his missing hand which made me squirm.

The book is very appropriately entitled "Remembering" because the novel alternates between the present and the past. Catlett remembers many people of Port William--but especially those from his family. The past haunts him because it seems so present to him. He is the man that these people had a hand in forming. He has run from it after his injury and the anger it brings to the surface, but he cannot escape who he is.

From the depths of despair, he comes back from the dead, to live a new life. He returns home, to his family with the burden of repentance. He is in fact afraid that he may die before he is given the chance to repent to those whom he has wronged, and receive their forgiveness. I won't spoil the end, but it is a glorious picture of true remembrance--by looking with new eyes.

This is a beautiful work that reminds us all what it means to remember. It means to not only remember the past, but to view the world through the eyes of faith.

David Galloway

Andy Catlett has lost his right hand in a corn picker along with his purpose. In the months following the accident he makes life hard for himself and everyone around him that cares for him--he just can't let the loss of his hand go and forgive himself for the one moment of thoughtlessness that led from his transformation from being someone who provided for others to that of a person for whom others provide.

His poor wife Flora is nearly at the breaking point. She loves Andy more than ever, but can't bear his inability to shed his poisoning outlook since the accident. Andy has been called to fly from his small horse-powered farm in Port William, Kentucky to that of a major Agriculture conference in San Francisco in 1976. The speakers there applaud the death of the family farm and the rise of the industrial agrarian economy. Andy is a small-fry, a farm journalist and a farmer who actually milks cows and spreads manure. He was invited to speak to this group of businessmen and officials as a novelty--an opponent who can't hope to stand in the way of progress.

Andy must contend with the modern world, the loss of his hand, and see if he can find himself again on the streets of San Francisco on a lonely dark night that seems far removed from all he has ever held dear.

This is an amazing short novel(120 or so pages). I writhed to read the description of Andy's hand being destroyed, cried at his sense of hopelessness, and grieved and rejoiced along with him. Each of Berry's Port William novels argue for a rural life where people are tied to the land and the land to those people and their descendents. I want to go into more detail, but I've already spoiled enough of the story. Go read it and treasure Remembrance's poetic prose, deeply human characters, and sense of elegiac hopefulness.

Bob

Summary: Following the loss of a hand, a grieving Andy Catlett struggles with both his loss and his anger with agribusiness, that he believes is destroying a way of life, and gropes his way toward healing.

Andy Catlett is suffering from two losses, and struggles with anger from both. While harvesting crops with a neighbor, his right hand is mangled in a machine, resulting in the loss of the hand. One of the remarkable qualities of this narrative is how Berry explores the inner struggle of a capable man who struggles to write, to dress himself, and not make a nuisance of himself while doing farm chores. He is angry with himself, and quarreling incessantly with his wife, who sees through it all and Andy's inability to forgive himself.

He has been angry with American agribusiness for a long period of time, how it has destroyed a way of life in the name of efficiency which underwrites equipment manufacturers, fuel and fertilizer interests, and banks at the expense of the few remaining farmers in perpetual debt. He saw its effects as a journalist, and sees them in the erosion of a way of life in the town to which he returned to farm, Port William. He is not an easy person to live with.

Catlett's twin angers reach a crisis point when he leaves home, amid alienating arguments with his wife that seem to have no resolution, to speak at an agricultural conference. He sets aside his planned speech to excoriate the assembled experts, whose mathematical models do not touch the pain experienced by all those who have left farms. He tells the stories of his ancestors and friends from Port William, and how they have suffered under the ideas of the experts and ends with damning the enterprise.

The book is framed by two dreams, one in his hotel in San Francisco after speaking, the other in the woods near his Kentucky home, a beatific vision of a transformed Port William. In between, Catlett travels a journey of remembering, as he walks the streets of San Francisco to the bay, and then on his flight home. He recalls the speech, his arguments with Flora, his wife, the accident, his sense of being unmanned, cut off from his hand, as it were.

Perhaps the most effective portion was remembering his time as a journalist, and two interviews, one planned and one not. He visits the Meikelberger farm, the symbol of modern agriculture, with its huge grain bins, monstrous equipment, and 2,000 acres planted in nothing but corn as far as the eye can see. It is an impressive operation but beneath the impressive appearance is a man with an ulcer, incessant worry over perpetual debt, all built atop old farmsteads that have disappeared. He detours, enroute to Pittsburgh, through Amish country in eastern Ohio, stops to watch a farmer plowing his field with a team of three beautiful horses. He sees a well-kept farmstead, and nearby farms.  He is offered a chance to plow with the team, bringing back childhood memories. As he questions Yoder, he learns the farm has no debt, and Yoder, who is older than Meikelberger looks ten years younger. If he needs help, there are nearby neighbors to pitch in. 

It's what led Catlett back to farming, restoring an old abandoned property he and friends had long talked about. Flora and Andy make a go of it, becoming part of the membership of Port William. And then the accident....The question remains of whether Andy will find healing and a new kind of wholeness as he journeys home.

In this work, Berry weaves his own convictions about the destruction of an agricultural way of life, of communities, and the land with an perceptive exploration of what the loss of a hand can mean, and whether Andy will suffer destruction of his self, his marriage, and his way of life. There are achingly beautiful passages and deeply troubling ones as we plumb the depths of Andy's turmoil. Berry invites us to consider both the healing of deeply wounded people, as well as deeply wounded lands and communities.

Jordan Carl

While not as captivating as Jayber, this installment is excellent. Wendell Berry unpacks a theology of beauty, suffering, and reconciliation while revisiting his favorite themes of honor and respect for the past and the land. This book reminded me of my love of two Andys: 1) Andy D. for introducing me to Wendell Berry and 2) Andy Catlett for opening his fictional heart to show how to cope with loss by way of forgiveness.

Kathryn

I was going to give this one three stars...until I read the last chapter. Simply exquisite.

Peggy

3 1/2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️Wendell Berry’s novels are so melodic and poetic! They read like a song bringing the lyrics alive in your head. This one “Remembering” was sad. But that’s the way with life ....

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