Wendell Berry: Thicker Than Liquor (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 19)

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And so they waged the night, Uncle Peach striving with the Devil, Wheeler striving with Uncle Peach. It seemed to Wheeler that the two of them were lost together there in the dark house in the dark sky. He could not have told the time within three hours.

Once, after they had passed through yet another nightmare, Uncle Peach, who had momentarily waked, said slowly into the darkness, “Wheeler boy, this is a hell of a way for a young man just married to have to pass the night.”

“I thought of that,” Wheeler said.

For Week 19 of Deal Me In 2016, I drew the Six of Spades which corresponds to Wendell Berry’s short story “Thicker Than Liquor”. Wendell Berry is one of the more well-known Kentucky authors and shows up in my Hearts category as well (Hearts is the suit I have designated for stories by authors with a Kentucky connection); however, this one I included in my Spades list simply because it was sitting on my shelf. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

In “Thicker Than Liquor”, the reader gets to see ne’er-do-well alcoholic Uncle Peach through the eyes and the broad continuum of emotions that belong to his adult nephew Wheeler Catlett. From anger to pity to resignation to what could be called love, Berry seamlessly portrays the intricacies of a family relationship that is what the title suggests – thicker than liquor.

Set in 1930, Berry also hints at the economic problems that the nation is having. Wheeler, having just graduated from law school out east, comes back to small town Kentucky to set up a practice and he isn’t any different from the rest of the country in trying to make ends meet. Berry makes it clear that each dollar Wheeler has to shell out to rescue his uncle from a drinking binge in Louisville is more than just an annoyance.

Wendell Berry’s stories and novels all revolve around the small town of Port William, Kentucky. However, all of the stories I’ve read are able to stand on their own. Without having read anything else by Berry, the reader of “Thicker Than Liquor” can understand the roots these characters have that go back generations and the varying futures they and their families face. This story is included in the collection That Distant Land and the time placement of each of these stories is set anywhere from 1888 to 1986 giving the reader glimpses of characters and families as both children and elderly adults.

 

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2 responses to “Wendell Berry: Thicker Than Liquor (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 19)

  1. I love Berry’s essays but I haven’t tried any of his stories yet. After his essays, I really have no idea what he’d be like as a story writer. His ideas are very deep yet I don’t find him very subtle. I wonder if he’ll surprise me when I get around to reading one of his stories.

    • I have never read any of his essays but I’ve read a number of his stories and novels. I’ve read ABOUT his essays and I would say that he puts his ideas into his stories but it’s rare that they are didactic or preachy. My guess is they are more subtle than his essays. Because for the most part, they are just plain good stories.

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