A lot of things that don’t normally make me tear up have been causing some flow lately, so who knows what’s happening there, but this book jerked some tears in several places. This is the story of Michael Perry’s first year living on a farm in Wisconsin with his stepdaughter, wife and soon to arrive baby daughter. And, of course, there are chickens. And pigs. And a visiting cast of wild animals, friends and family. As would happen in a year in anyone’s life, people (and chickens) die and children are born and gardens grow and seasons change. Sometimes that’s enough to make for a compelling plot, and this book was a real page turner for nonfiction (which I find is usually not quite as “must-see-what-happens next” as fiction).
In the extra material at the back of the book (including an interview), someone calls Perry a memoirist. I guess. I confess that I don’t think I’m certain what that means anymore. It seems to be a biography by someone whose not really that important? My friend who teaches creative writing says that the autobiography/memoir has replaced fiction as the best selling books. She teaches a class where her students explore what this says about our culture and the times. I’m not sure, but it’s comforting to me in reading Perry to have a bit of the filter that’s there in fiction removed. So if I’m reading fiction and someone writes about “slumpage,” which is Perry’s priceless term for the body language of small children which displays their complete disappointment in you as a parent and the world in general, I would figure they had probably experienced that themselves and were fictionalizing it. Perry doesn’t have to fictionalize it, and it’s good to know that, yes, he himself has directly experienced slumpage. And it has driven him, too, absolutely insane.
I like the honest way Perry describes rural life and the people he knows. It’s good to read about someone who finds he meets a lot of good people he likes. I think that perhaps the key is if you are the kind of person who is looking to meet good people you like, you will, in fact, meet those kind of people. I love books about community, and again, it’s good to know that Perry is writing about a good community and that it’s a real one, even if it’s distorted by Perry’s particular take on it (just because something is a memoir doesn’t necessarily make it the Truth, capital T and all).
At the end, I also wanted to move to a farm, but that happens every other month or so, pretty much regardless of what I’m reading. So far my husband says the best we can do is befriend farmers or win the lottery and have two residences. But I like farming vicariously through folks like Perry.