Wendell Berry's Old Jack and Memory
04 February 2015
It so happens that The Memory of Old Jack is a book about remembering. Its story spans decades, and unfolds in the span of a single day. Old Jack—in solitude even while in a crowd; on the last day of his life, and seeming very much to suspect it, if not to know it for sure—loses himself in reverie, rolling the movie of his life inside of his head.
But here is the miraculous thing of Wendell Berry’s slim, tender novel: Despite whatever tinge of sepia is suggested by the book’s title or its synopsis, The Memory of Old Jack is not a nostalgic book. Old Jack’s memories tumble onto the pages not yet preserved in amber, their edges not yet rounded by sentimentality or by posthumous narrative. The events recalled are still jagged enough to sting, messy enough to defy easy moralizing.
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