Andy and Danny are the last gone. Perhaps, as they each secretly pray, they may be among the first of a time yet to come, when Port William will be renewed, again settled and flourishing. They anyhow are links between history and possibility, as they keep the old stories alive by telling them to their children.
Wendell Berry’s short story “Dismemberment”, published in 2015, to my knowledge is his most recent story. It’s included in the 2016 version of The O. Henry Prize Stories.
Andy Catlett is 40 years old in 1974 when his hand is cut off in a farming accident. While the incident itself is shocking, Catlett goes through many of the usual things anyone would go through with this type of life-changing injury: grief, anger, withdrawal. What I appreciate about Berry is that he makes me want to read stories about “the usual”. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of surprises in many of Berry’s stories but one doesn’t have to get surprised to consider the story to be compelling. I don’t view getting one’s hand cut off to be usual but the focus of the story is how Andy deals with it. He eventually comes around to acceptance and a realization that even though his hand is gone, his family and friends are still there:
“Between us,” says Danny Branch, “we’ve got three hands. Everybody needs at least three. Nobody ever needed more.”
And its not uncommon in Berry’s more recent stories that after he has reached back into some part of the past, he reaches forward to the present. If the present is the time of publication of this story, Andy Catlett is 81 years old (the same age as Berry, himself, at this time). This reaching across the decades gives the reader the sense that Andy kept going even without his hand.