We are reading again. On our first date, my husband and I sat in the grassy lawn of his campus and read a book aloud to each other. In the two years of dating and early marriage that followed, we read quite a bit together and listened to books on tape. Somewhere along the line, it stopped. I realized we had been watching too much Netflix together and not reading enough. (Though I highly recommend both seasons of Joan of Arcadia, which, like most TV shows I enjoy, I only found after it was taken off the air.) Last week I suggested we start reading again, and he wholeheartedly agreed.
Lest you think the title of this post is about mine and my husband's marriage, it is actually about this book, which I happened upon at my in-laws' the other day and borrowed for us to read. Since my husband had never read any Wendell Berry and was interested in his writing, I thought it was a good place to start. Short stories mean that we can finish one a night and not worry if we get too busy to read together for several nights.
We just read the first story, Pray Without Ceasing, last night, and it was fantastic. I have only read one other piece of Wendell Berry's fiction, and this story sealed his place in my collection. In fact, it might have earned him a place on the shelf next to Flannery O'Connor and Faulkner, and if you know me, that is saying a lot!
Like an O'Connor story, Pray Without Ceasing, has one climatic moment of grace where a character can choose to find redemption or to reject it. Unlike most of O'Connor's characters, this character actually finds that redemption. But this story is so much more. It is layer upon layer of grace and beauty and sadness and the realness of life all blended together. There are so many deeply real characters in it that I came away not knowing who the story was actually about. Really, there are many moments and means of grace in the story. The powers of friendship and kinship and fidelity entwine the characters, pushing them apart and pulling them back together in the most tragic and beautiful movements. It is a story, above all, of faithfulness and forgiveness, and it is profound enough to be a sermon. In fact, more preachers should preach stories and not sermons. As my husband put it, Berry has a way of saying something powerful without ever actually saying it. He just places all of these bits of story in front of you and then slowly brings the puzzle together to show the full picture.
The language is so beautiful and the story so moving that I want to quote some of it here, but for the sake of not giving away the plot, I will refrain. Go and read it and tell me what you think. My husband and I were both near tears at the end. I think we'll keep reading.