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IN BRIEF

Fiction

October 30, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

WATCH WITH ME: And Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Nee Quinch by Wendell Berry. (Pantheon: $21; 210 pp.) Wendell Berry is a native Kentuckian who farms on 125 acres in Henry County. After that he is a poet, an essayist (good, hard work and taking care of things are his favorite subjects), and a storyteller. His fiction is by far the gentlest of the three genres, as his poetry and essays don't really waste any time telling us we're doing things all wrong. But these stories (about a different tribe from the Aborigines, but with some of the same values; see "Mutant Message," above) quietly tell about a way of life that Berry clearly admires. "Miss Minnie had the gift of neatness." A schoolteacher by training, she marries Tol (Ptolemy), who is "overabundant in both size and strength," who embodies "very powerful tender feelings," especially for Miss Minnie. He is "as neat as a pin in all his work," but "about the same degree careless of his own appearance." There world together, outside of their 98-acre farm, has a "radius of about four miles." Between the First World War and the young ones moving away, Tol is the last of the Proudfoots in the Katy's Branch Valley. And Tol and Minnie do not have children. The story called "The Solemn Boy," is about a poor proud man and his son, wandering away from the city, who are given a meal and a warm coat by the Proudfoots. Tol watches his wife fluttering around the boy, sees "how her hand hovered above the boy's shoulder, wanting to touch him," and in this tiny observation all the sadness of their not having children is contained. That's the way Berry writes fiction.

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