‘Are You All Right?’ by Wendell Berry

Are You All Right? by Wendell Berry, 1991

The magic trick:

Intensifying the story’s emotion by using an epilogue

We’re off to Kentucky this week. Wendell Berry, of course, has to be the starting point.

“Are You All Right?” has a magic trick that one probably wouldn’t want to rely on in story after story. It’s a well that runs dry quickly. But while the water’s still there? It’s a literary thirst quencher. This metaphor is terrible, I am so sorry.

Let’s get things back on track. OK, so “Are You All Right?” tells the story of male friendship. Two men go to check on two of their neighbors, who they haven’t heard from in a number of days. They’re pretty sure that nothing is wrong, but they just want to confirm well-being.

So that right there is a sweet, gentle story premise. But the trick comes near the end of the story. The narrator skips ahead a number of years – how many, we don’t know. We get the “where are they now?” epilogue, and the details cast the gentle story in a new light. Not a different light; just a more intense glow of sweetness and meaning.

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

The selection:

“Fine night,” he said. He had lit a cigarette, and the cab was fragrant with smoke.

“It couldn’t be better, could it?”

“Well, the moon could be just a little brighter, and it could be a teensy bit warmer.”

I could hear that he was grinning. He was in one of his companionable moods, making fun of himself.

I laughed, and we rode without talking up out of the Katy’s Branch valley and turned onto the state road.

“It’s awful the things that can get into your mind,” Elton said. “I’d hate it if anything was to happen to them.”

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