I’ve been living in the Bay Area for nine months now, but after years in New York City I still feel like an exile here. Strangers’ smiles unnerve me; hikes, sadly, bore; driving terrifies. To ease the sense of displacement, however, there is the godsend that is The Threepenny Review, the quarterly literary magazine published in Berkeley. Among the miscellany of pleasures in its most recent issue, there is a story by Wendell Berry that stands as one of the finest and funniest short stories I have read in some time. “Andy Catlett: Early Education” begins in ill-fated idyll (“In grades one and two I was a sweet, tractable child who caused no trouble”) and ends in remedy; every deadpanning word, meanwhile, delights.
A troublemaking child, a deadpan narrative: this brings to mind, of course, the echt American original who was Mark Twain. It is a common experience for the reader who loves Twain both to marvel and sorrow at his singularity, for who else can provide the joys he gave? To have found by the lights of the bay a story so wonderfully reminiscent of Twain—and yet original, too—makes this homesick transplant feel that much more at home.