Wendell Berry has given us a thought-provoking novella which may or may not be semi-autobiographical. It is narrated by Andy Catlett who tells of his childhood from the age of nine in the early 1940’s. Andy was named after his Uncle Andrew whom he adored and wanted to emulate. He was surrounded by a loving family, parents, grandparents and his brother Henry and lived an idyllic life on a farm in country which was worked by his lawyer father Wheeler Catlett who preferred farming to his legal profession.
The serene life of the Catlett family is shattered when they are informed that Uncle Andrew was shot and killed by a fellow named Carp Harmon in a dispute in a bar. From that moment on, the family never discussed Uncle Andrew or the details surrounding his untimely and unfortunate death.
We learn about the character of Uncle Andrew through the musings of his namesake Andy who relives all the moments he shared and savored with his favorite uncle. Uncle Andrew was married to Aunt Judith, a somewhat arranged marriage between two people who had little in common. Andrew was jovial, loved people, loved to dance and did not love work as well as play. People loved him in return. He was attracted and attractive to ladies but was faithful in his own way to his quiet wife Judith. It seemed out of character for Andrew to provoke a man to kill him. The intimation was that Andrew had made overtures to Carp Harmon’s daughter in the bar which incensed Harmon who carried a gun.
Throughout the tale, young Andy dares not ask about the details of Uncle Andrew’s death lest he bring up unpleasant memories for his parents and grandparents. When he was a senior in high school, it occurred to him to try to find out just what happened at Carp Harmon’s trial, after which he received a jail sentence of two years in the penitentiary. A visit to the County Clerk’s office revealed that transcripts of a trial were only kept if there was an appeal, and there was no appeal.
Some thirty years later, when Andy’s father died, he found among his father’s papers back issues of the “Weekly Express” which gave some details of the trial. Andy then contacted the only living witness to the killing, a fellow named R. T. Purlin, who introduced some ideas that did not gibe with the media reports.
I would suggest that you read this short novel as it brings up several issues which are bandied about today – perjury, eyewitness details, lawyer credibility, and others. We also realize how tragedy affects family and friends and colors their thinking for the rest of their lives. I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to anyone seeking a stimulating, captivating book.
Source: A World Lost by Wendell Berry (1996)