Wendell Berry has recently earned his audience through his splendid essays. This thin volume echoes Berry's concern in the essays with value, community and personal attachments while it returns us to his earlier, and in some ways more compelling, voice as a maker of stories.
Each of these simple tales provides a brief glimpse of life around Port William, Kentucky, the county seat at Hargraves, and the neighboring town of Goforth. As we move from the opening narrative of Wheeler Catlett's trip to Louisville to rescue his drunk Uncle Peach in 1930, we watch the landscape lose its population. By the last story, set in 1967, we stand with Wheeler looking out at "a dying town in the midst of a wasting country."
But if we witness threatening changes, we also learn of the dead and living "membership" of this decaying world, those who have realized their continuing obligation to the other laborers around them. Wheeler's son Andy returns to Port William to nurse his dying grandfather through his last days. Wheeler finds himself instructing a young man about his right to own the land he has worked for years. And Wheeler in turn learns painful truths about paternity and secrecy from someone belatedly anxious to acknowledge his responsibilities in his will.