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Hannah Coulter: A Novel Paperback – Sep 30 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Susan Denaker brings twice-widowed farm wife Hannah to life with soft-spoken but resolute dignity. As the 20th century closes and a new millennium begins, the elderly—yet fiercely self-sufficient—Hannah reflects on her past, especially the crucial threads of family, community and the soil. Denaker does an especially effective job of portraying the other figures in the Port William Membership in a manner that fits the approach of the first-person narrative. She adjusts the octave and tone of the male and female characters of varying ages just enough to set them apart from each another, but listeners can be certain that Hannah maintains full control of her own storytelling. The experience evokes a sublime visit to a beloved grandmother figure with memories and wisdom to impart. A Shoemaker & Hoard paperback (Reviews, Oct. 4, 2004). (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* For the first 40 pages or so, Berry's latest novel about the Kentucky farming community called, by its inhabitants as well as the author, the Port William membership, seems more of same. A good same, for few write American English more limpidly than Berry, and he has realized his characters as thoroughly as Faulkner did any of the people of Yoknapatawpha County. But as this telling of a farm woman's life in her voice continues--and voice it seems more than writing, so spontaneously speechlike are its cadences and the simple accuracy of its diction--it feels ever more poetic. Not gnomic and surrealist, like prose poetry, but flowing and long breathed, like epic poetry. Of course, the story it tells is epical, that of a heroine who expresses, in her living and doing, the essence of her people. Its character is domestic rather than martial; though, since its time span includes World War II, its trials include the MIA disappearance of Hannah's first husband and the ghastly combat experience of her second, Nathan Coulter, which Hannah learns of with any precision only after his death a half-century later. If its domesticity is more often happy and fulfilling, though, the cultural movement--the short, precipitate, ill-informed, poorly considered demise of the American family farm--over which Hannah's beautiful and heartbreaking story arches is as tragic as any war. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's a slow, sweet, sad and happy story of an old woman's life. She talks about what is important and what she learned over the years in regular family life.
I felt that even though the book is set a while ago. It's got wisdom for now. That life isn't always perfect. That sometimes it isn't perfect because of the choices we made.
It's a book full of wisdom and learning, and I want to read all of Wendell Berry's books now.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I don't know if you will ever see this, but it is the only way I know of letting you know how much your stories mean to me. I read your books with a highlighter, as there are just too many meaningful passages not to be marked and referenced over and over again. You certainly have a gift for words. The melodious nature of your writing is as addicting as is anything else I have ever experienced. The stories you tell and retell about the citizens of Port William, are for me lessons of a sort. For those of us who sometime wonder what love is, what kindness means, and what it means to be part of something greater than self-serving interests, well, you provide an extraordinary example in your wonderful work.
Thank you so much, for the pleasure I get when I read what you have written.
The prose is luminous. It's like Berry found a way to turn his poetry into a novel.
This is a deep reading experience. You'll overhear the story of a woman who lost her mother, than her first husband, but found a place in which to make a world, a kind of new world, almost a new Jerusalem (it is sacred ground in the best, ordinary sense).
"Hannah Counter" is also the first and the only (so far) of Berry's novels in which sexual love within marriage is portrayed directly. I have wondered why in previous stories he just skips over the intimacies of marriage; the only sex, even oblique, is between the men of Port William and the women of Hargrave! Now, in "Hannah Coulter," he writes Hannah's and Nathan's desire for each other with aching sweetness.
I don't know how Berry imagines his way inside his characters' skins -- especially his women -- but he does that with supreme skill."Hannah Coulter" is his most recent novel and his most subtle and skillful, and perhaps most poetic. I loved it, and if you are a fan of Berry's fiction and/or poetry, you will too!
People in Port William don't live in fear. "It was getting on toward dark, but I could see the car well enough, and I didn't recognize it. I hesitated a minute. The country is full of strangers now, and you hear tales. There are , no doubt about it, some people who would knock an old woman in the head more or less on speculation. But I thought "What of it?" and went on out."
Hannah's accounts of the two loves of her life and the deepness and fullness of that love are the best descriptions of mature, lasting love that I have ever read.
Hannah looks to the future of Port William with some sadness as the lines of generations of farmers have been broken. This is reflected in the paths chosen by her own children.
"But did we tell the stories right? It was lovely, the telling and the listening, usually the last thing before bedtime. But did we tell the stories in such a way as to suggest that we had needed a better chance or a better life or a better place than we had?
I don't know, but I have had to ask. Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different. Suppose you encourage or even just allow your children to believe that their parents ought to have been different people, with a better chance, born in a better place. Or suppose the stories you tell them allow them to believe, when they hear it from other people, that farming people are inferior and need to improve themselves by leaving the farm. Doesn't that finally unmake everything that has been made? Isn't that the loose thread that unravels the whole garment?
And how are you ever to know where the thread breaks, and when the tug begins?"
Wendell Berry's writing is a gift and I am deeply grateful.