February 06, 2004

Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren At a Time, by Michael Perry

This is not a book I would see on a bookstore shelf and think, gosh that looks like a good book. Even the blurbs on the back donít really sound all that interesting. I read it because my book group decided they wanted to read it.

Michael Perry writes about returning to live, after 10 years in the wide world, to his home town of New Auburn, WI, pop. 485. In a community of loggers and farmers he is a writer and poet, and though a native son he needs something to help ease himself back into the community. He joins the local volunteer fire department. Each chapter is an essay on some emergency or another that he is called out on, often humorously told with himself as the butt of the joke. The story about working on a guy down in a cow barn wedged between two cows while he, the first responder, is dressed in bike shorts and work boots and in direct line with a cow's business side is sweet and hilarious. His descriptions of the other guys in the department are so vivid I bet if I drove up to New Auburn, I could pick them out. And when they go to the local school to do the Firemen's Talk, which he calls "cultural interdiction," I could just see the kids in the gym sitting on the floor, absolutely enthralled by the firemen. But essentially itís a meditation on community and neighbors and being dependant on the people you live among. I found it engaging and sweet. I hope he writes more.

Posted by Deb English at February 6, 2004 07:41 PM

Phil said:

That's interesting, Deb. Is it anything like James Herriot's books?

Deb said:

Not really--he's a little grittier than Herriot. As an EMT, he sees the darker side of life and talks about it. We talked about that in our bookgroup discussion and one guy defined "community" as that place you are so tied to you dont leave, even in the bad times. Herriot's stories made me feel good even when they were sad. Perry's stories made me glad someone like him is out there taking care of us. The local eccentrics are drawn just as colorfully tho.