Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry

Nathan Coulter is my third book in the "From the Stacks" challenge. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, but haven't had time to write any thoughtful comments on the book.

For months now, I've been wanting to read something by Wendell Berry, as his writing came highly recommended from a number of sources I respect. This particular novel was not specifically mentioned, but beggars cannot be choosers. I found a book of "Three Short Novels" by Wendell Berry at Massolit and snatched it up. The book includes Nathan Coulter, Remembering, and A World Lost. Although the novel I read is actually the one that introduces the town of Port William and its inhabitants, launching a series of books set in that Kentucky locale, I can't help feeling that this might not have been the best choice for me to begin with.

The overwhelming theme of Nathan Coulter is death. The story begins with a death and ends with a death, and any number of things--fish, raccoons, and people--die in the intervening chapters. I wasn't expecting that, so the effect of the book, rather than being the idyllic rural story I expected, or even sharply intellectual, as I also expected, was similar to jumping into the shower only to find the water running cold. It's much to late to do anything about it, except react instinctively.

This book explores various responses to the death of loved ones, as well as different perspectives on the expectation of death that everyone must face. Death may be welcomed, feared, accepted or unexpected.

There is more to the book than death, of course, and I'm afraid I have to say honestly that I don't think I really "got" the message the author was trying to convey. I was too busy reacting. I now have to decide whether to reread Nathan Coulter before going on with the next two in the volume, or whether I should just go ahead, (perhaps with lowered or at least altered expectations) and continue reading. I have plenty of time to decide, as whichever course I pursue, I have a lot of other reading taking precedence over Wendell Berry right now.

Two books left in my challenge, which is supposed to be completed by January 30th--War and Peace (about 4/5 finished, but that still leaves over 300 pages to go) and W Pustyni i w Puszczy, my Polish book. Is it even possible?


At 11:45 PM , Blogger 3M said...

I've not read Nathan Coulter, buy I have read Jayber Crow and enjoyed it. I rated it a 4 out of 5. I plan on reading both "Nathan" and "Hannah" at some point--perhaps in 2008.


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