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I’ll be teaching Sonlight’s Literature 430 for the co-op this fall, and this is one of the books students will have to read. Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry is a collection of different stories that were originally published elsewhere such as The Southern Review and The Atlantic Monthly.
These stories can each be read separately; however, they are intertwined because they take place in the same small town of Port William, Kentucky, and the same characters in the stories appear and reappear. For instance, “Making It Home” follows Art Rowanberry’s return home after a long hospitalization for an injury he attained while battling in the war. In the short story, “Are You All Right?”, neighbors Andy and Elton go by boat to check on their friends, Mart and Art Rowanberry. The town is flooding, and Andy and Elton are worried that the Rowanberrys might not be able to escape from their flooded farm land.
Berry has composed an entire town in his mind, and by telling each character’s separate story, but intermingling many of the same towns folk in recurring stories, the reader feels as if the town and the people really exist. The reader feels as if he’s listening to a Port William old timer recount all of these stories from times past. The charm of the book comes from this element.
Berry weaves rich stories that draw the reader in and compel him to empathize with the character. My favorite story in the collection is “Fidelity.” This story follows an old man, Uncle Burley, whose life is ending. His son, Danny, and his nephew, Nathan, don’t know how to help him, so they take him to the hospital. Uncle Burley then slips into a coma and is on life support, which Danny and Nathan both know Uncle Burley would never want. They’re miserable thinking how long Uncle Burley could exist like that. This thought especially torments Danny who decides to take matters into his own hands. He plans to take Uncle Burley from the hospital and let him die at home on the land that he loved. Of course, the police immediately begin an investigation when they realize Uncle Burley has been “kidnapped” from the hospital. While most of us no longer live in tight knit, small towns, after reading this story, you may wish that people still did.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.