Wendell Berry has forgotten that a character needs a good story, or any story, to warrant a 363-page novel. This is not a novel, but a work of portraiture, with barely enough narrative to get the reader to the end of a chapter. It’s presented as an autobiography of town barber Jayber Crow, as “written by himself,” and it’s truly baffling how this man of minimal education with a shiftless, underachieving disposition is able to write such insightful, poetic, grammatically correct prose. Yes, the prose is enchanting at times, but the enchantment ends at the beginning of each sermon on the evils of agricultural modernization. The most startling revelation in the book is that our protagonist is a pervert. Jayber is infatuated with a minor, and when she’s grown and married he decides that he’s in love with her and vows to be her faithful secret husband because he doesn’t like her unfaithful lawfully wedded husband. This violation of boundaries seems alien to the small-town Christian values and social norms the book supposedly celebrates and made me extremely uncomfortable with both Jayber and Wendell Berry. I had to put it down, unfinished.

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