Hannah Coulter
A Novel
Wendell Berry
(Shoemaker & Hoard)
We hate to say this in public, and you didn't hear it here, but Wendell Berry is a supremely sappy writer. It's Norman --- we almost wrote "Noman" --- Rockwell for the sixties set.

They, these inchoate farm folk, have many a hard time there on the north forty, what with the depression and all, but butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, and Hannah's family name isn't Steadman for nothing.

Hannah's step-mother can be a little harsh, but then there is Grandmam --- that's what we call her, "Grandmam" --- always there by her side, there in front of the stove, brewing strong coffee at 5:30 in the morning, when any sane person would still be abed.

These are all neo-Steinbeckian proletarian hero-types but where's the beef? Husband #1 is Virgil, as in Publius Vergilius Maro, author of bucolic literature during the age of the Holy Roman Empire. But Virgil Feltner --- Port William's Virgil --- gets cold-cocked in the Battle of the Bulge. Husband #2 ... Nathan ... comes on the scene soon after, and he is a good man, and a strong man, and a soft-spoken man,

    He had no small talk and few of what are called social graces. He had a kind of courtesy that required few words, and with me a gentleness that was as deliberate and forceful as his bouquets of stolen flowers, so roughly broken off. He would say, "Ay, Lord, honey, you're all right!" Or: "Here's some flowers I brought you, pretty thing."

After awhile things get so wooky there in Berryland that one finds oneself wanting to call up the ghost of Sherwood Anderson, or Sinclair Lewis, or Willa Cather, to help us out, put a tad of fire in these folk, for pity's sakes. They come along so full of inchoate humbleness that we think they are going to blow up and pop.

Maybe it's those King Jamesian repetitions: "My life with Nathan turned out to be a long life, an actual marriage, with trouble in it."

    I am not complaining. Troubles came, as they were bound to do, as the promise we made had warned us that they would. I can remember the troubles and speak of them, but not to complain. I am beginning again to speak of my gratitude.

Thus, Hannah, the star of this stew, is barely complaining about not complaining, with the gratitude, and all, for this simple, strong man, a man that makes one not want to complain.

No complaints at all ... except about a writer who can't seem to get enough of this Biblical rubbish. And some readers, of not-so-Biblical patience, who might get all too full up, all too quickly, with all this vomit-inducing sentiment.

--- Leslie Winters, M.A.

Total pages in book: 185
Total pages read: 78

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