Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The great American novel

This phrase, "the great American novel," is kind of a running joke, and even a cliche, among writers. The joke is we're all trying to write the great American novel. The cliche is that we're all trying to write the great American novel. I know that I won't write it, although I might some day write A great American novel. I sure hope so. But I believe THE great American novel was written by poet and farmer Wendell Berry. That novel is Jayber Crow, the story of a small-town Kentucky barber.

Berry's prose is amazing. I came upon sentence after sentence that I would like to have written. And his plot is intriguing and his characters delightful. But even more so is Berry's love of the world, his tenderness towards nature, human failings, love and friendship. It's a kinder, gentler world, the world of Jayber Crow, not idealized, not romanticized, but deeply loved.

And the novel is a remarkable telling of the transformation of America from a small, sparse, and rural to the modernization of the later 20th century. It is a history of our country told through the eyes of Everyman. One of the finest books I've ever read. And following on yesterday's post, Berry surely writes because he loves the world.

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