These are questions that need not just to be stated but dramatised. And in Stand by Me Berry weaves them into the lives of the good, misguided and indifferent folk who make up a Kentuckian town to show that right dwelling cannot happen without a revaluation of community and of mutual support — in a nation where ‘freedom’ is defined by our refusal to ask ‘how much is enough?’.
The title of Berry’s collection, Stand By Me, reflects his overall theme, which is an exploration, covering about a century, of the loyalties and interactions between fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, cousins and brothers... Certain aspects of the local culture are so accepted that it seems they hardly deserve comment either by characters or author: the extermination of the Native Americans, the history of slavery, the assumption that women are to keep up with the housework but have no inner lives, the way that pistols and shotguns are as standard as hoes and shovels... With this, Berry is getting at something unusual in modern-day America: the choice not to get out of town but to stick with your relatives and your landscape no matter what the ups and downs... Though politics aren’t mentioned, Berry also gives us the way that Trump voters perceive the world. Old habits, long loyalties, attachment to place and tradition come first... Do I forgive them for repeatedly re-electing Mitch McConnell? No, but after reading Stand By Me, I get it.