In his newest short story collection, FIDELITY, Wendell Berry continues his saga of the Port William Membership, a small rural farming community in Kentucky up through World War II. Told in a simple, eloquent oral style, these stories fill in gaps in the lives of the Feltners, Coulters, Penns and other fictional families familiar to the readers of Berry’s previous novels and stories. In the first story, “Pray Without Ceasing,” we learn how a murder committed in the summer of 1912—when Thad Coulter shot Ben Feltner—has, through forgiveness and forsaking of vengeance, served to knit the two families together in marriage.
“A Jonquil for Mary Penn” describes the adjustment of a young farming couple as they are gradually drawn into a close-knit community that understands them well enough to meet their unspoken needs. When the young wife, Mary Penn, is sick with fever and despondent after a quarrel with her husband, she awakens to find a neighbor sitting at her bedside. “Making It Home” describes a young soldier’s slow readjustment to civilian life as he makes the long walk from the bus station to his family farm. And “Fidelity” describes a young farmer’s impulsive decision to take his comatose father out of a Louisville hospital so that he can die with dignity in his home. Neighbors look after each other during a flood in “Are You All Right?”
Wendell Berry demonstrates the eloquence of a master storyteller in these five tales that take us to a quieter, simpler time in American culture when the strength and resilience of rural communities gave people a sense of pride and place.