Wendell Berry, A Place in Time; Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2012), 241pp.
Wendell Berry was born in 1934 to a family that had farmed Kentucky land for five generations. After studies and travels took him to the University of Kentucky, Stanford, France, Italy, and the Bronx, in 1965 he bought his own farm near his birth place. He's been been tilling the earth and churning out books ever since then. Over fifty books of poetry, novels, essays, and short stories have earned him numerous awards as one of the leading truth-tellers of our day.
This collection of twenty short stories, all of which were previously published in various magazines and journals, continues his ongoing depiction of the people of Port William — a fictional town on the banks of the Kentucky River that is generally regarded as reflecting Berry's real life and times in Port Royal, Kentucky. Port William is the setting for as many as eighteen previous books by Berry. The town is also mentioned in a number of his poems. The stories in this volume date from 1864 until 2008. The book includes a map of the town and a family tree of the characters. Not much happens in these stories — which is a way of saying that we experience the sacred in the ordinary.
In his essay Imagination in Place, Berry says of Port William: "I have made the imagined place of Port William, its neighborhood and membership, in an attempt to honor the actual place where I have lived. By means of the imagined place, over the last fifty years, I have learned to see my native landscape and neighborhood as a place unique in the world, a work of God, possessed of an inherent sanctity that mocks any human valuation that can be put upon it." His notion of "membership" signifies life in a particular community in a particular time and place. In The Wild Birds, the character Burley Coulter sounds like the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12: "The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain't in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don't."