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Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace Paperback – March 8, 2016
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“Drop whatever you are doing and sit down to read Michael Perry’s Visiting Tom….Perry is a craftsman of the highest order….When you go back to doing what you were doing when you picked up this book, you might just see your world with a broader, more humane perspective.” (New York Journal of Books)
“Warmhearted….engaging….down-to-earth and genuine.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Funnier than Keillor.” (MinnPost)
“Visiting Tom is more than just a whimsical portrait of a unique character. It’s a meditation on modernity and self-reliance that sneaks up on you with its unexpected depth.” (Capital Times)
“Charming and humorous.” (Booklist)
“Michael Perry writes the words that create the memoirs that make so many of us want to raise chickens and pigs, plant a few rows of corn or otherwise just make hay. Mostly, though, he makes us want to get to know our neighbors better - no matter where we live.” (Experience Wisconsin Magazine)
“The portrait Mr. Perry paints...is of a place and a life that is worth noting….His writing is beautiful and immediate and elegant.” (Wall Street Journal)
“[Perry] is a sharp and empathetic observer.” (Journal Sentinel)
“In Visiting Tom, a story that melds Perry’s unique humor with notes of Garrison Keillor and Billy Bryson, the elderly man’s tenderness and character jump off the page as he shares his thoughts on life and love.” (Express Milwaukee)
“It’s part memoir, part character piece. There’s a bit of the poetic to it. It’s about fighting bureaucracy, Foxfire-ish self-sustenance, life the ‘old timer’s’ way, and male-bonding foolishness. It’s about fatherhood, marriage and love. And it’s just about one of the sweetest books you’ll ever read.” (Daily Sparks Tribune)
From the Back Cover
From the acclaimed author of Coop and Population: 485 comes a portrait of a unique individual and a dedicated way of life.
What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons? Visit by visit—often with his young daughters in tow—author Michael Perry finds out.
Toiling in his shop, Tom Hartwig makes gag shovel handles, parts for quarter-million-dollar farm equipment, and—now and then—batches of potentially “extralegal” explosives. Tom, who is approaching his sixtieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Arlene, and is famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, has stories dating back to the days of his prize Model A and an antiauthoritarian streak refreshed daily by the interstate that was shoved through his front yard in 1965 and now dumps more than eight million vehicles past his kitchen window every year. And yet Visiting Tom is dominated by the elderly man’s equanimity and ultimately—when he and Perry converse as husbands and the fathers of daughters—unvarnished tenderness.
“PERRY’S the real thing.” —USA Today
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Perry's idolization of Tom gets a much. I personally know someone like Tom. He is a member of our family and such first hand knowledge highlights the limitations of the book. There is much more to the lives of people like Tom that Perry has left out and items that are much more instructive.
The book is ok. It gets rather self indulgent and preachy, particularly when the author talks about his family. It is his right and he is right to be proud of them but you get the sense that there is an air of my kids are better than yours as every depiction is sweet and softly colored. They are all above average and that leads to shedding little light on the human condition, rural life or much of anything.
Sorry to be so negative, but there is not much in this book but an attempt to capture good feelings, like the stories out of an old Reader's Digest magazine. Nothing wrong with it and if you are looking for some soft awe shucks, then have at Visiting Tom. Hence the 3 star rating.
In full disclosure, I have met many of the people depicted in the book and know of many more through family members. My grandparents' farm is on one of the nearby roads christened with the family last name. Running the Steinke Road hill for cross country practice only one time explains why the Fall Creek team always did so much better than my team. "Farmer Jerry's" kids, now well into their careers, showed cattle with me at the Eau Claire Country Fair. I remember Tommy (as I'd always heard him called) and Arlene from childhood visits to buy honey or drop off medicine for an ailing animal. I recognize that it is easy to be a critic if one is from the area where the book is set, and so I want to be clear about my praise the accurate details and descriptions. Even with the names changes, it was easy to identify the people and places referenced. Perry's descriptions depict the places well. The road change about which Perry agonizes was big news for the people around County Road I/J -- I remember my mom getting the scoop on it from Farmer Jerry.
Tommy "Hartwig" is a local living legend, known for his quirkiness and brilliant ingenuity, but Perry wants too much from his character. Sometimes the author acknowledges longing for bits of wisdom, depicting Mr. "Hartwig" as an old sage, but he never really resolves the sense of longing even after he squeezes out the book's final concluding sentiments. He wants more from Hartwig in a spiritual sense than Tommy or most people have to give. It is good to have a book that captures many of the aspects of my home area that will be gone or forever changed sooner than I would like to think. However, it often misses the lessons in pragmatism and straightforwardness that characterize daily interaction there. Occasionally, Perry captures the essence of the people that I know and relates it with his characteristic humorous tone. The part truest to the Tommy I knew was Tom's affirmation that Perry was harvesting wheat by hand with his scythe "about right" and later remark that trounced Perry's nostalgia-infused pride by adding that a gas-powered weed whacker worked even better.
Folks looking to remember the old days may appreciate the book. My grandpa seemed to like it. Younger people inclined to find their roots in the soil and try their hand at subsistence farming might also find the the sentiments endearing.
Until recently, our daughter lived in Altoona by Eau Claire, so when he wrote about shopping centers going up and the sign Oakwood Mall appearing, I knew exactly of what he spoke. I've just begun reading, Population 485, and am also enjoying that, as we have relatives in New Auburn. I'm hoping one of his other books might describe his courtship of his wife, as when he writes of her and their children in Visiting Tom, he does so with much love. I'd like to learn how they met and fell in love. If he didn't write about that time in his life, perhaps a new book topic has just been suggested!
UPDATE: Now read Truck and I see he did, indeed, write about his courtship and marriage. Up next: Coop. Love his writing!!