Watch with Me

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this latest short story collection, Berry returns to his fictional Port William fellowship during the years from 1908 to World War II and introduces two comic characters, Ptolemy (“Tol”) Proudfoot and his wife, Miss Minnie. Ptolemy is a huge, three-hundred-pound farmer, personally unkempt but an able farmer, somewhat reserved and deferential to his petite, ninety-pound wife, a former schoolteacher. They are a prosperous but childless farming couple living in the early part of the century.

The seven stories in WATCH WITH ME are tales or local color sketches rather than short stories. Each is built around an amusing or disconcerting incident, with little dramatic conflict or plot development. The opening story, “A Consent,” describes Ptolemy’s courtship of Miss Minnie, telling how he won her hand with his generous bid for her angelfood cake at the local school’s annual harvest festival bake sale. “A Half-Pint of Old Darling” recounts a misunderstanding about Ptolemy’s use of whiskey as a stimulant for his newborn lambs. “The Lost Bet” presents an amusing incident in which Ptolemy gets the best of a Louisville grocer who treats farmers with contempt. “Nearly to the Fair” describes the time Ptolemy and Miss Minnie drove in circles around Louisville trying to get to the state fair. “The Solemn Boy” presents a poignant sketch of rural hunger and homelessness during the Depression years. “Turn Back the Bed” describes a rural family reunion, and the title story, “Watch With Me,” recounts Ptolemy’s efforts to retrieve his shotgun from a feeble-minded neighbor who has walked off with it.

These warm, engaging tales are spun out with slow pacing, lavish detail, and zestful exuberance. They capture the flavor of rural American life before World War II, marked by farm chores, harvest festivals, state fairs, and family reunions. They defend rural community values against the outside forces that would eventually transform American farming life.