Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HANNAH COULTER by Wendell Berry

HANNAH COULTER

By Wendell Berry

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 2004
ISBN: 1-59376-036-1
Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

A continuation of Berry’s Port William, Kentucky, saga (Jayber Crow, 2000, etc.), this one told from the perspective of an elderly farmwife looking back on her life and world.

Hannah Coulter comes from that long-past generation of rural Americans who fully expect their lives to pass as uneventfully as their parents’ and grandparents’ and God only knows how many ancestors’ before them. A girl during the hard years of the Great Depression, Hannah experiences want at an early age and learns to make do with little and hope for even less. After growing up on a farm, and after high school, she goes to work as a secretary for a local lawyer and marries her landlady’s nephew Virgil, who gives her one daughter just before he goes overseas in WWII and dies in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, she marries Nathan, another veteran, who comes from humbler circumstances but works hard to make a living on a small Port William farm for his wife and stepdaughter and their two subsequent sons. Her story takes in the better part of the late 20th century and amounts to a kind of elegy for the starkly beautiful country life that Hannah had always taken for granted but came to love all the more as it faded into history, victim of economic and social change. Her three children all make their way through college and drift from home to become academics and entrepreneurs, while Nathan is more and more hard-pressed to keep the farm running. When he eventually dies of cancer, Hannah thinks the book has finally closed on the Coulter farm—but last-minute help from an expected quarter gives hope to the possibility that a new generation will take charge of the family legacy.

Atmospheric and quietly moving: a tale that manages to avoid outright bathos as it makes its way along the narrow boundary between memoir and nostalgia.