Hannah Coulter / Wendell Berry

Over his prolific writing career, Wendell Berry has created a number of books set in the fictional town of Port Williams, Kentucky.  This novel is the only one that features a woman narrator.  It is the voice of Hannah Coulter, a now elderly woman in the early 2000s, presenting a fascinating autography of her life in this close knit rural community.

In it, she vividly recreates her childhood growing up during the Great Depression.  It is also a tale of her relationships with two husbands,  The first ended shortly after it began, with her husband being killed during the European conflict in World War II.  Her next marriage stood the test of time until her husband’s death from cancer late in the twentieth century.  Describing each, she paints pictures of the compromises necessary on the parts of both parties in creating a loving relationship.  The lives of the children from each marriage are also addressed, showing how, in a society now favoring urban life over rural traditions, all of them grew up and left Port Washington to settle in cities across the United States.

Wendell Berry is a gifted poet, and while the book eschews poetic flourishes, his simple prose is a delight to read.  It effortlessly captures the essence of rural life and touches the heart strings.  Hannah Coulter is an elegy to the slow death of the American family farm.  It recreates a time where hard work and strong moral beliefs were their own reward.  The book held me captivated from beginning to end.  Atmospheric and quietly moving, it is essential reading for anyone interested in a time period now rapidly fading from human memory.  I’m sure this novel will rank as one of my favorite reads here in 2019.

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