Review: Jayber Crow

Jayber CrowJayber Crow by Wendell Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”
Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. “Where did you get that crap?”
I said, “Jesus Christ.”
And Troy said, “Oh.”
It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.

I’ve started this book three times, each time quitting after concluding that I had very little in common with this ineligible bachelor barber. But by the time I reached this moment in the book (on page 287), I was glad to have spent some time in his company.

I finally ended up reading this book because I kept bumping into Wendell Berry’s ideas and admiring them. His influence was all over Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. And Malcolm Guite, author of Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination, made it clear that he’s also a fan of Berry’s thinking.

So I persevered past the first 30 pages–enduring Jayber’s slow and patient retelling of his early years. While I never loved Jayber himself, or felt that I truly understood his outsider status, he endeared me to himself with his thoughtful loyalty to Mattie Chatham and to the world he remembers and longs to preserve. Perhaps he (and Wendell Berry) have allowed nostalgia to blur out the difficulties of the life of a subsistence farmer, but I tend to prefer this romantic version of the past anyhow. It’s how I want it to have been.

If you’re put off by the plot or the first few pages, persevere if you’re interested in the old economy, before credit and factory a farming, a world in which farmwives went “to town with produce, bought their groceries, and [went] home with money” as opposed to today, when they go”to the store with only money and [go] home with only groceries.” Persevere if you’re interested in gentle spiritual insights, like his declaration that if love “did not happen to us, we could not imagine it.”

I am choosing to forgive the aimlessness of the plot and the slow pace because I admire Wendell Berry’s ability to not only share the ideas he loves, but get me to love them too. I will continue to read his books, approaching them with the patience I would have if I lived in the world Berry remembers and wants to remake.

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