Who Is My Neighbor?
In Minta Sue Berry’s insightful short stories, the men and women of Shiloh—a small, southern town of the sort that readers of Eudora Welty or Peter Taylor will recognize—grapple with what it means to be part of a community. Sometimes they struggle with loneliness and isolation even among circles of family and friends; at other times they try to distance themselves from those who do not share their habits or beliefs. But ultimately, through sometimes quiet—and sometimes surprising—moments of self-discovery, these characters come to feel and know the qualities of kinship.
Written in fluid, lyrical prose, these stories trace patterns of disappointment, fear, and despair in the intimate spaces of everyday life. A new mother yearns for acceptance in her family and wonders what life will hold for her and her baby. A young boy escapes the unhappy world of his troubled parents by creating his own reality, one in which he finds approval and stability.
Many of Berry’s stories concern characters moving toward a better understanding of themselves. Brother Billy, a traveling preacher “who never had a bad thought in his life,” comes to Shiloh to save souls and to tell the congregation what they want to hear so that they can feel secure in their lives. But when Lottie Lee—a fiery-haired woman with a personality to match—crosses Billy’s path, he must rethink the meaning of mercy and what it means to be one of the Lord’s chosen.
Sometimes characters can only speculate about the hurts and passions of the people around them. In “Exit Miss Tish,” townspeople gather at the funeral home to dissect the enigmatic life of a strong-willed woman. In “Next-Door Neighbors,” a young girl must confront her own loss before she can begin to understand what the worries of a mother with sons serving in the war might be like.
Berry’s work paints an intricate portrait of men and women seeking a community of understanding amid the forces of self-doubt and uncertainty. Who is My Neighbor? offers a series of richly expressed, deeply moving stories about what it means to judge, to forgive, or to risk caring for others.
The Author: Minta Sue Berry, now retired, was a professor of English, associate dean, and director of teacher education at David Lipscomb University. She lives in Dickson, Tennessee.