Coop by Michael Perry
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins
After spending his early life growing up on a farm, Michael Perry has returned, this time with his step-daughter and pregnant life. The family’s aim is relative self-sufficiency, or at least living from their land – and Perry’s writing work. His wife Annaliese, who plans to deliver the baby at home with the help of a midwife, will be homeschooling their daughter Amy (theoretically they are both doing it, but in practice it is largely Annaliese), and all of them will be working to get their farm working again. Pigs and chickens populate their lives, as Perry recalls his youth on a nearby farm and the lessons it has taught him, and those he has still to learn, about his adult life.
“Coop” has the feel almost of being Perry’s diary, or a recording of his thoughts over this year of his life. He travels effortlessly between the past and the present without being overly obvious about where he is going, but also while managing to give the reader a roadmap to what is happening when. It was this highly effective subtlety that really impressed me about “Coop.” Perry’s remembrances of his past always tied in with what was going on in the present, as might be expected with the diary or journal feel that “Coop” had, but he never belabored the point. Instead, Perry gives his readers the tools necessary to make the connections and he trusts them to do just that, not even titling his chapters. And you know what? It worked. I got the themes, I understood the trains of thought, and I felt that Perry respected me as a reader by not explicityl spelling every last thing out for me. He is also brutally honest about his life and hardships and is always hardest on himself without being obnoxiously self-deprecating, which is hugely attractive in this sort of memoir.
The chicken report: Perry had both laying hens and meat hens. I’m really only interested in the former, I have no desire to butcher my own meat. I loved his love of the chickens, and his descriptions of their personalities. I thought he walked the line between loving the birds and not becoming too attached very well and, even more impressively, he helped his young daughter do the same.
Perry seems to respect me as a reader and, as such, I respect him greatly as a writer. This is not the world’s fastest read, but it is a book worth taking your time with; I definitely recommend it if you are interested at all in the life of a man and his family returning to the farm.
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