Three Short Novels | Wendell Berry

A theology professor once mentioned to me that “land” is the one major theological category of the Old Testament that has no obvious analogue in the new covenant. Land was central to Israel’s plight. Slavery in foreign land, wandering in desert land, entrance to the promised land, exile from said land, and return. Everything hinges on that land.

The idea of land has captivated the mind of Berry just as fully as it haunted the mind of any ancient Israelite. Despite the fact that I’m a northern wilderness camper and Berry’s a Kentucky farmer, his tie to the land resonates through the fiction he writes, eliciting harmonic overtones within.

His Three Short Novels are all thoughtful works. He dives deep into the soul of his characters and brings their lives to life with an economy of words. Whether we’re watching Nathan Coulter grow up, feeling the frustration of Andy as the lone dissonant in a conference on “The Future of the American Food System,” or piecing together the lost life of a murdered uncle, the reader is beckoned to enter each life deeply.

The most poignant moment in all three novels was Andy’s vision of his town resurrected.

He sees that they are the dead, and they are alive. He sees that he lives in eternity as he lives in time, and nothing is lost. Among the people of that town, he sees men and women he remembers, and men and women remembered in memories he remembers, and they do not look as he ever saw or imagined them. The young are no longer young, nor the old old. They appear as children corrected and clarified; they have the luminous vividness of new grass after fire. And yet they are mature as ripe fruit. And yet they are flowers. (221)

None of Berry’s characters find their resurrection along an easy path, though. Everyone bears the marks of their journey—whether it’s a missing hand or the memory of an exploding bird on the wing. Maybe this is why Berry’s characters are so real. They’re created by their suffering.

That light can come into this world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering. (326)

Berry’s characters stay with you. His three short sketches are at the same time epic and concise. When you read Berry you feel a human connection with his creation and their connection to their beloved land.

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