by Wendell Berry
The narrator through the voice of Hannah Coulter ends the first chapter of this novel with the simple line “This is my story, my giving of thanks.” Do not, however, be lulled into thinking you are going to read a book consisting of platitudes on gratitude. Hannah reflects from old age on a full life, but what most would consider a common, ordinary life. She grieves over those she lost whether to sickness or the War. She keeps moving forward because what else is she to do?
Wendell Berry, the author of Hannah Coulter is an agrarian, a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. He brings his characters to life with carefully chosen words that reflect their deepest thoughts about difficult subjects as well as their humanity. This is a book that you may want to reread, that may make you tear up, and that will certainly be the cause of reflection as you identify with certain characters or events.
Perhaps because I usually prefer linear storytelling and Hannah Coulter strays from that paradigm in its first and last chapters, it will not be one of my favorite books. I do recommend it as a book of depth with passages that are worthy of sharing orally for the way the words delight or for the descriptions meant to be savored for the images they evoke. Hannah Coulter opens the door to her heart, her life, and her community to the reader in an honest and touching manner.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Counterpoint for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Literary Fiction
Notes: 1. Part of the Port William series but they don’t have to be read in order.
2. Map and Genealogy included at the end.
Publication: October 10, 2005—Counterpoint
Time doesn’t stop. Your life doesn’t stop and wait until you get ready to start living it. Those years of the war were not a blank, and yet during all that time I was waiting. We were all waiting.
He told of the time he went fishing and the mosquitoes were so big and fierce that he had to take shelter under a lard kettle, and the mosquitoes’ beaks were so tough and sharp that they pierced the iron and came through, and he picked up his hammer and clenched their beaks, and the mosquitoes flew off with his kettle.
The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.