FIDELITY by Wendell Berry

FIDELITY

Five Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Berry has employed all the forms he works in--poetry, the essay, fiction short and long--toward an examination of what it means to be placed: what here and elsewhere he calls ``membership''; American individualism-turned-loneliness seems like the nightmare that puts his eloquence to greatest use. Though only one of the five stories here, ``Making It Home''--a war veteran slowly walks his way out of horror toward his known identity, his own Kentucky landscape--describes it expressly, a cradling arc is the shape most fundamental to didactic art from Dante onward; in other stories as well, all set in the community of Port William (Remembering, 1988, etc.), often there is a rescue (such as that, in the title piece, of an old man from a degrading death-in-hospital) or an unnoticed support (``A Jonquil for Mary Penn'')--a floor beneath which one cannot drop. The negatives Berry creates as contrast material aren't done as well as the lightsome positives: a hapless Kentucky State Police detective investigating an abduction in ``Fidelity'' comes off as a straw man pelted by the Port William members with chalky stringencies. The members' inner darkness--such as the shame and desolation (uncamouflaged by urban noise) that the pathetic murderer/suicide in ``Pray Without Ceasing'' undergoes when faced with mercy--strikes more deeply. Ultimately, the prose of the stories less illustrates the Port William values--forgiveness, dignity, fidelity, community--than provides an indelible, sure- footed rhythm for them. Cadenced, eternal-seeming sentences everything; there is an enchantment to them. The last story--``Are You All Right?''--two neighbors going out at night to check on two others--feels almost like a dream whose template-like perfection you wake up shaken by: inevitable, simple, reaching. Uncommonly satisfying art and vision.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-41633-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1992




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