Wendell Berry: The Discovery of Kentucky

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 13

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We are one fourth of the way through Deal Me In 2015 with Week 13 and I selected the Eight of Diamonds to read Wendell Berry’s short story “The Discovery of Kentucky” from his collection That Distant Land.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here.  Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Berry is one of the more well-known authors from my adopted state of Kentucky and his stories all revolve around the citizens of the state’s rural Port Williams. Berry’s stories jump between time periods and generations and he sets “The Discovery of Kentucky” sometime in the 1950’s.

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John T. McCallum, proud of his set of black mares, enters his horses and wagon in the new governor’s inaugural parade in Frankfort.  He ropes in a few of his buddies, including the barber Jayber Crowe who narrates the story, to help him out with his wagon and it’s theme of pioneers moving forward. McCallum tends to be overly serious about his endeavor and instructs his friends to only put water in the clay jugs they are using as props.  The rest of the group is by no means as serious and fill the jugs with Kentucky Pride or, as Jayber Crowe puts it, “the distilled essence of our homeland”.

This Kentucky Pride initiates much of the action that could easily be put into the categories of “antics” and “shenanigans”. They culminate in front of the new governor and his wife much to the embarrassment of McCallum.  As tinges of political satire creep up occasionally in comments by the increasingly inebriated bunch, the story takes on a Twain-esque feel.

For those who have never read anything by Berry, I would recommend reading a couple of other stories in addition to this one.  I like the way Berry playfully tosses around Kentucky stereotypes in this story and humor is a part of much of Berry’s fiction; however, most of it also contain sadness, suffering and loss.  “The Discovery of Kentucky” is all humor.

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7 responses to “Wendell Berry: The Discovery of Kentucky

  1. Hi Dale,
    I still haven’t read any Wendell Berry, even though you first recommended him to me a couple years ago. I’ll save a place for him in DMI 2016. 🙂
    -Jay

    • This story is very enjoyable but many of his other stories have more depth. He’s one of my favorites that I haven’t read in a while.

  2. Pingback: Deal Me In 2015 – Week 13 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

    • Anything by Wendell Berry is going to be good. And he has a lot of short stories. Barbara Kingsolver is known for being from Kentucky but I’m not familiar with any short stories – and her novels are not set in Kentucky.

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