Picks and Pans Review: The Wild Birds

updated 05/12/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/12/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Wendell Berry

In the title short story of this group of six, a lawyer in rural Kentucky is asked to write a will for an old man who has finally decided to acknowledge his illegitimate son by leaving him the family farm. The lawyer, who figures in other stories in the book, starts off opposing the bequest, but the old man's argument, a model of simple clarity, convincingly explains that the gesture will make sense out of what has been a rather irresponsible life. In Thicker Than Liquor, the young lawyer gets a call from a hotel in Louisville, asking him to come pick up his Uncle Peach, a hopeless alcoholic. The lawyer has inherited the responsibility for Peach from the older generation of his family. He goes to Louisville, gets his uncle cleaned up, pays his bills and in a particularly harrowing scene, takes him on the train back to the farm where he begins the terrible postbinge nursing. Berry, the Kentucky-based author of Nathan Coulter, A Place on Earth and The Memory of Old Jack, is a superb writer. His sense of what makes characters tick is extraordinary. His farmers love their land in a powerful bond that moves them forward, generation after generation, with a sense of fulfillment that seems unique in this day of disaffected heroes and writers who turn to black humor when they must deal with eternal verities. In the most beautiful story of this collection, The Boundary, Berry meticulously describes the last illness and decline of an old farmer who has given everything to his land and must let go. The emotional impact is astonishing. Short stories don't get any better than these. (North Point Press, $13.95)

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