I finished my first Wendell Berry novel this week. I picked Jayber Crow, which is a story about a balding bachelor barber who secretly “marries” Mattie, a much younger woman who is already married to a show-off that nobody likes. Jayber vows to stay faithful to Mattie and he does, though he never tells her or anyone else about it. This story proves that Berry’s writing is as good as advertised, for Jayber doesn’t come off as creepy as he probably should. Of course, the book has made me suspicious of my bachelor friends, who may be marrying others as Mormons baptize—in secret and without permission.
Jayber seems to have the theological instincts of Rob Bell, though along the way Berry drops some provocative gems. On the usefulness of petitionary prayer: “Perhaps all the good that ever has come here has come because people prayed it into the world. How would a person know? How could divine intervention happen, if it happens, without looking like a coincidence or luck?” (p. 253).
On the unlivable, implausible nature of a world-denying Platonic Christianity: “…this religion that scorned the beauty and goodness of this world was a puzzle to me. To begin with, I didn’t think anybody believed it. I still don’t think so. Those world-condemning sermons were preached to people who, on Sunday mornings, would be wearing their prettiest clothes. Even widows in their dark dresses would be pleasing to look at. By dressing up on the one day when most of them had leisure to do it, they signified their wish to present themselves to one another and to Heaven looking their best. The people who heard those sermons loved good crops, good gardens, good livestock and work animals and dogs; they loved flowers and the shade of trees, and laughter and music; some of them could make you a fair speech on the pleasures of a good drink of water or a patch of wild raspberries….And when church was over they would go home to Heavenly dinners of fried chicken, it might be, and creamed new potatoes and creamed new peas and hot biscuits and butter and cherry pie and sweet milk and buttermilk. And the preacher and his family would always be invited to eat with somebody and they would always go, and the preacher, having just foresworn on behalf of everybody the joys of the flesh, would eat with unconsecrated relish” (p. 161).