An elegiac celebration of the redemptive power of love and community, by the prolific poet, novelist, and essayist.
This tenth work of fiction by Berry is set, like most of its predecessors (A World Lost, 1996, etc.), in the fictional precincts of Port William, Kentucky, one of the most richly imagined communities in contemporary fiction. Jayber Crow, the town barber for over thirty years, beginning in the 1930s, offers a first-person recollection both of the town's quiet communal pleasures and of the efforts of its hardworking, and often hard-pressed, farmers to secure some measure of personal happiness. Their struggles are made somewhat easier by the unspoken but profound sense of community that most in Port William share, a commitment to support each other through the hard patches of life without calling attention to the help being given or taken. Jayber, an orphan and an outsider, is more aware of the complex interdependence of families and friends than most. His barbershop is a focal point of local society, a place in which many come to relax, to exchange or confirm news, and to share gossip. And Jayber, cordial but closemouthed, becomes a confidant—and confessor—to many. While the leisurely narrative is in part Jayber's recollections of the everyday patterns and intermittent sorrows of the community, it is also the record of the impossible love Jayber harbors, for most of his adult life, for Maggie, a warm, intelligent woman married to the hustling, manipulative Troy Cheatham. Berry's work has often displayed an interest in the nature and effect of religious faith. That interest takes center stage here. Jayber's love for Maggie, rather than corroding his character because it can never be expressed, leads him to a serene faith, which meets its greatest test as Port William is overcome by the modern world (farms fail, families fray and disperse, and the ubiquitous developers move in) and Maggie becomes mortally ill. Jayber's hard-won acceptance of loss offers a compelling and—by contemporary standards—quite unusual climax.
A precise and moving evocation both of a vanishing lifestyle and of the liberating power of faith. (Author tour)