Hannah Coulter

Berry, Wendell. Hannah Coulter. New York: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005.

Reason read: Stick with me for a second because this will seem strange. I put Hannah Coulter in the November transgender category for the simple reason Keith does an amazing job writing in a woman’s voice.

There is a simple grace to the plot of Hannah Coulter. There is a simple grace to the character of Hannah Coulter, as well. You won’t find major conflict. You won’t tremendous disaster or upheaval. No crazy mood swings or dramatic tantrums. Hannah is simply an elderly Kentucky farmer nearing the end of her life, sharing her life story with an unknown audience. She has survived two husbands and the changing of her community, but really what she truly wants to talk about is love. Love as a parent, grandparent, farmer, Port William resident, and, most importantly, the wife of a tormented veteran. It is this last love that brings a change of tone to Hannah Coulter. It’s as if the entire book was written to support the chapter of Okinawa. Hannah tries to make sense of the war; to put it into a context she can understand. “You were living, it seemed, inside a dark cloud filled with lightning and thunder; thousands of tons of explosives, bombs and shells, machine gun and rifle fire” (p 169). Hannah puts it into a perspective the reader can understand. It is easy to forgot about the involuntary reactions of the body during fear and pain. Based on the animated and passionate voice, Berry seems to be the veteran in the two pages describing the Battle of Okinawa. He is that puzzle piece that completes the picture but doesn’t quite fit the space; as if the jigsaw didn’t cut the angles correctly.
Much like a yoga instructor asking practitioners to “breathe through their heart’s center,” I am asking readers of Hannah Coulter to read with heartfelt intention; to inhale the words gently and with a deliberate pace. It is well worth the effort.

As an aside, the imagery of the landscape and the people reminded me of a Josh Ritter song.

I could have quoted lines from Hannah Coulter for days upon days. The writing is that beautiful. Here are a few of my favorites, “You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering” (p 171), “It was a time between times, almost a no time” (p 172), and “It was not a look a woman would want to look back at unless she was ready to take off her clothes” (p 219). I love how the subdued passion just smolders with that one sentence.

Author fact: Berry is able to channel Hannah’s voice in part because he is a Kentucky farmer.

Book trivia: Hannah Coulter is not the only book to feature the Kentucky town of Port William.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Hannah Coulter.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166).