Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review--HANNAH COULTER by Wendell Berry

HANNAH COULTER is like modern Faulkner.  In sentence structure, tone, scene, and subject matter,it is reminiscent of Yoknapatawpha County (Faulkner's fictional county in Mississippi).  The story held little suspense, marginal character development, and no discernible plot.  However, the narration of an old woman reminiscing about her life held me in sway.  It was like listening to an elderly grandmother weaving tales while crocheting and swinging on the front porch.  I could almost hear the squeaking of the chains on the swing and the clicking of the darning needles. 

However, even though the narration was strong, I believe it was also its weakness.  At times, the circular usage of a word transcended the poetic intent to become irritating.  My wife and I both read the book and made great fun of this.  One reflective word, like "love" or "live," would be repeated like:  "We would live in our love and love the life we lived.  Nathan and I found solace in our love because it was our love..." and so on.  About the middle of the book, the narrator slips into this fugue of reflexive use of key words and phrases to the point where it almost became a drudgery to continue.  Rather than waxing philosophical, it became pedantic.  But, I carried on and in the end decided to love the one I was with (tee-hee). 

I can recommend this book to most folk who can do without car crashes (although there is one hilarious account), people being shot, detectives solving cases, conspiracy theories, court drama, zombie apocalypses, or shiny vampires.  It is a novel about place.  It is a novel about acceptance, growing old gracefully, and the distorted lens of nostalgia.  It is an unassuming novel that laments simpler times, simpler ways of life, and the encroachment of "civilization."  In this way, it connects again, perhaps more fully, with William Faulkner's works in a thematic way.