Friday, March 27, 2009

A World Lost

I read Wendell Berry's book, A World Lost last month, got busy, and forgot to post anything about it.

It's a good thing this novel is a short one. It was sad and mysterious, but the sadness wasn't lightened nor was the mystery solved in the end. I probably could not have finished it had it been a longer book, as I found the story emotionally demanding.

This story is about Andy Catlett's Uncle Andrew and Andy's recollection of Andrew and the day he was murdered. Andy's feelings for his uncle are intertwined with his emotions at leaving behind the innocence of childhood.

"When I opened the door my father and Cousin Thelma quit talking. Cousin Thelma smiled at me and said, 'Hello, Andy, my sweet.'

My father smiled at me too, but he did not say anything. He stood, held out his hand to me, and I took it. He led me out into the hall and up the stairs.

And I remember how terribly I did not want to go. I had come out of the great free outdoor world of my childhood--the world in which, in my childish fantasies, I hoped someday to be a man. But my father, even more than my mother with her peach switch, was the messenger of another world, in which, as I unwillingly knew, I was already involved in expectation and obligation, difficulty and sorrow. It was as if I knew this even from my father's smile, from the very touch of his hand. Later I would understand how surely even then he had begun to lead me to some of the world's truest pleasures, but I was far from such understanding then."
In the rest of the book, Andy gives details about Uncle Andrew - his life and his relationship with the rest of the Catletts and others in Hargrave and Port William. Andrew appeared to be a kind of hard-living ne'er-do-well who didn't do much. His story was dark and subtly destructive. Yet Andy and Wheeler loved him.

Although Andy does not resolve to his satisfaction the reason for Andrew's death, nor the answer to his own question, "What manner of man was he?" he does come up with a way to soothe himself:

"Remembering, I suppose, the best days of my childhood, I used to think I wanted most of all to be happy--by which I meant to be here and to be undistracted. If I were here and undistracted, I thought, I would be at home.

But now I have been here a fair amount of time, and slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day. I live in their love, and I know something of the cost. Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside all these years."

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Blogger hopeinbrazil said...

Laura, you write such good reviews. Are you posting them at semicolon on Saturdays? If you are, I haven't seen them. You've got me interested in the books by McCall Smith.

5:50 PM  

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