‘Making It Home’ by Wendell Berry

Making It Home by Wendell Berry, 1992

The magic trick:

Setting a soldier’s homecoming against the backdrop of war memories

I was awed yesterday by Wendell Berry’s story “A Jonquil For Mary Penn” for its emotional detail and patience. It never worried about rushing the plot, but instead revels in studying the thoughts and feelings of its characters. Today’s story employs the same strategy, but somehow doesn’t quite reach the same heights, in my opinion.

We’re following a soldier on the last leg of his journey home to Kentucky from World War II. The catalogue of thoughts and feelings here mainly stem from his experiences in the war, and herein lies the problem for me. The details in “Jonquil” focus on the minutiae of family life. The focus on such small things feels beautiful. Here, the focus falls on war, and the topic feels too big for this kind of treatment. Our protagonist’s experiences in war somehow feel smaller than they should.

Anyway, it’s still a strong story. I’m only diminishing it in comparison to “Jonquil,” which truly is one of the best stories I’ve read. “Making It Home” sets up the sweetness of this soldier’s homecoming remarkably well.

And that’s quite a trick on Berry’s part.

The selection:

When he returned to the road after his bath and his sleep, it was past the middle of the morning. His steps fall into their old rhythm on the blacktop.

“I know a mighty power,” he thought. “A mighty power of death and fire. An anger beyond the power of any man, made big in machines equal to many men. And a little man who has passed through mighty death and fire and still lived – what is he going to think of himself when he is back again, walking the river road below Port William, that we would have blowed all to flinders as soon as look at it if it had got in our way?”

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