In over his head with two pigs, a dozen chickens, and a baby due any minute, the acclaimed author of Truck: A Love Story gives us a humorous, heartfelt memoir of a new life in the country.
Last seen sleeping off his wedding night in the back of a 1951 International Harvester pickup, Michael Perry is now living in a rickety Wisconsin farmhouse. Faced with thirty-seven acres of fallen fences and overgrown fields, and informed by his pregnant wife that she intends to deliver their baby at home, Perry plumbs his unorthodox childhood—his city-bred parents took in more than a hundred foster children while running a ramshackle dairy farm—for clues to how to proceed as a farmer, a husband, and a father.
And when his daughter Amy starts asking about God, Perry is called upon to answer questions for which he's not quite prepared. He muses on his upbringing in an obscure fundamentalist Christian sect and weighs the long-lost faith of his childhood against the skeptical alternative ("You cannot toss your seven-year-old a copy of Being and Nothingness").
Whether Perry is recalling his childhood ("I first perceived my father as a farmer the night he drove home with a giant lactating Holstein tethered to the bumper of his Ford Falcon") or what it's like to be bitten in the butt while wrestling a pig ("two firsts in one day"), Coop is filled with the humor his readers have come to expect. But Perry also writes from the quieter corners of his heart, chronicling experiences as joyful as the birth of his child and as devastating as the death of a dear friend.
Alternately hilarious, tender, and as real as pigs in mud, Coop is suffused with a contemporary desire to reconnect with the earth, with neighbors, with meaning . . . and with chickens.
Amazon Exclusive: Marshaling Memories by Mike Perry
In forming a recollection of that compelling moment when I laid my tongue upon a frozen hammerhead--an act some forty years past--I trust my memory completely. I give this trust based on the electric clarity with which I can resurrect the physical sensation of my taste buds tacking themselves to the subzero steel with a merciless subcellular crinkle. I see no need to verify this reminiscence by licking additional frozen hammers. Still, memory is a notoriously unreliable narrator, and therefore, whenever possible, I rummage around for verification. Sometimes it is as simple as calling Mom. When you took my brother Jud to the Frost-Top Drive-In on his first day with the family after the social worker dropped him off, did he (as I recall) really eat his hamburger, wrapper and all? He ate the wrapper, says Mom, but it was a hot dog
. And so the correction is made.* In other instances the verification is archival. Seeming to remember that I experienced my first religious conversion after a spate of bad behavior in third grade, I traveled to the grade school of my childhood and was allowed to rummage through a box in the subterranean boiler room until I found my third grade report cards. The following excerpt served as evidence that yes, the third grade me was in need of spiritual improvement. Also, my third grade teacher wasn’t a top hand with the typewriter:
In other cases we strive not for verification but elicitation. In looking at the first photo on the right I can recall what it was like to be a shirtless farm boy in the sun; the straw-like smell of the stubble and how it pricked the soles of my bare feet; and, out of the blue, an unexpected emotional wallop as I recognize my mother’s handwriting and realize that the evocation of a person hardly requires their likeness. Literal traces will do.
Sometimes--and I am not speaking here of fabrication--we must construct memories we never retained. Poorly-lit as it is, the secpnd photo tells me much about my world as it was on my third day of life: that my father was the type of man who would grab a sheet of discarded stock from the paper mill of his employment and fashion a sign to welcome his wife and firstborn son home from the hospital; that the big ship painting currently hanging upstairs in my parents farmhouse has been in the family since the beginning; and finally (this required close study until I made out the rocking chair in the shadows, and further realized that the two strips of shininess visible toward the right side of the piano were reflected from the gilded pages of two bibles), I was able to conjure the week-old me, safe in my mother’s arms, the Word of God close at hand, belief and unbelief yet to come. *The question of Mom as unreliable narrator is not to be raised. Shame on you.
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Starred Review. Perry (Population: 485
) is that nowadays rare memoirist whose eccentric upbringing inspires him to humor and sympathetic insight instead of trauma mongering and self-pity. His latest essays chronicle a year on 37 acres of land with his wife, daughters and titular menagerie of livestock (who are fascinating, exasperating personalities in their own right). But these luminous pieces meander back to his childhood on the hardscrabble Wisconsin dairy farm where his parents, members of a tiny fundamentalist Christian sect, raised him and dozens of siblings and foster-siblings, many of them disabled. Perry's latter-day story is a lifestyle-farming comedy, as he juggles freelance writing assignments with the feedings, chores and construction projects that he hopes will lend him some mud-spattered authenticity. Woven through are tender, uncloying recollections of the homespun virtues of his family and community, from which sprout lessons on the labors and rewards of nurturance (and the occasional need to slaughter what you've nurtured). Perry writes vividly about rural life; peck at any sentence—One of the [chickens] stretches, one leg and one wing back in the manner of a ballet dancer warming up before the barre—and you'll find a poetic evocation of barnyard grace. Photos. (May)
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