On Wendell Berry's Port William fiction
31 October 2013
Given the vastness of Berry’s Port William fiction—eight novels and more than thirty short stories that range from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day—anything less than an actual book on the topic of technology and Port William would be something of an injustice. But absent that, Berry’s novel A Place on Earth makes for a good entry point. Published in 1967 by Harcourt, Brace and World, it is Berry’s second novel but the first of what might be regarded as his mature stage; he turned thirty-three in August of that year and had by then settled with his young family back in his native Henry County, Kentucky, after studying at Stanford, living abroad, and teaching at New York University. Berry later described the novel as “clumsy, overwritten, and wasteful,” and although this is an overly harsh judgment, it does seem as if Berry was trying to pour out the whole Port William story in one single book—when in fact there were many books, and many kinds of stories, still to be written about this place. In 1983 he published what he called a “revision” of the novel, about a third shorter than the original, a reduction achieved mainly through subtraction. But the original edition of A Place on Earth offers both a revealing glimpse of Berry as a maturing thinker and the most round single portrait available of Port William.
via The Cresset