Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: Jayber Crow

Jayber Crow tells the life story of a twice-orphaned boy who returns to his hometown and becomes a barber. Crow narrates his somewhat simple but pleasant life, taking the reader through the early part of the twentieth century and giving them a taste of what a small town rural existence was like. Port William, a fictional Kentucky town that Berry has written many other novels about, is the main setting, and Crow's rambling anecdotes attach the town's many colorful characters, such as Burley Coulter and Athey Keith, to your heart. The life described by Crow has vanished, and a sense of melancholy permeates throughout the novel, which is actually quite a tear-jerker. Crow has many internal struggles--at first, he wants to be a priest, but then decides that his faith isn't strong enough--with much of his sadness stemming from his love for an unhappily married woman, Mattie Chatham. The barber never professes his love to Mattie, yet he vows loyalty to her, calling himself her faithful husband, as opposed to Troy Chatham, who serves as something of a villain. Troy inherits a large farm from Athey Keith, Mattie's father, who is devoted to the old subsistence way of farming. Unfortunately, Troy's ambition and ego cause him to follow the post World War II trend of big farming, which results in his reliance on expensive machines instead of human labor. By the end of the tale, Troy's accumulated an enormous amount of debt, and he has to sell the farm, but not before chopping down the "Nest Egg," Jayber and Mattie's beloved grove of old growth timber. The fate of Port William seems to mirror that of Jayber's--as technology advances and furthers the end of communal existence (thanks to automobiles, highways, and television), the barber leaves town rather than submit to government inspection, taking with him an important social gathering place of the community. When the novel ends, Berry has you convinced that the human race has erred in its embrace of technological advancement at the cost of community and self-reliance. I recommend this book.

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