Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry
Release date: 2013 / 336 pages
Synopsis(from Booklist): Though Perry makes no claim to being an actual farmer whose livelihood is dependent on his labor, he offers a loving portrait of the occasional rigors and quirks of farm life. In this book, the focus is on his neighbor Tom Hartwig, a man who has lived 82 years in one farmhouse in rural Wisconsin, on a farm that survived the construction of a four-lane interstate in its front yard in 1965. Tom, known for his hobby of building and occasionally firing cannons, offers pearls of wisdom on everything from living with whizzing traffic outside your kitchen window, to repairing tools ranging from massive farm equipment to shovel handles, to raising daughters…
Review: Perry states “Ultimately this book is a love story” and while he is referring to Tom and Arlene’s relationship — married nearly 60 years — I couldn’t help but think this is a love story about rural Wisconsin as well — and am so glad Perry has focused his prodigious talents on the lush rolling hills and stately pines and oaks of a state that I, too, love dearly. I have so many happy memories of central Wisconsin and the cabin in Rome where my husband proposed, and Perry does such lovely justice to this part of the country.
While the focus of Perry’s latest is on his love of “old-timers” and on his battle with the local highway commissioner, this premise is just a “front” for his musings on the most ephemeral aspects of existence — fatherhood, youth, equanimity, perseverance, rectitude… Perry’s writing brings to mind echoes of E.B. White’s essays and John Updike’s short stories and occasionally Wilder’s Our Town. Fortunately, Perry escapes sentimentality through his wit, in fine form yet again: “Back on the interstate, I turn on the radio, a mistake I rectify by snapping it right back off when the purple-faced politics pour forth — an experience akin to opening the garden window, only to be greeted by the rear end of an explosively diarrheic donkey.”
The book’s central “protagonist,” Tom, is compelling. His calm in the face of the highway traffic storming through his formerly bucolic landscape is remarkable. But the truth is, Michael Perry could turn any subject into a fascinating foray into human nature. I have only read Coop and Tom thus far, but am looking forward to reading Truck: A Love Story very soon as well as his earlier works.
I’m afraid I will be keeping this one, but be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:
Wednesday, August 14th: Bibliotica
Thursday, August 15th: BookNAround
Monday, August 19th: The Road to Here
Tuesday, August 20th: Book Club Classics!
Thursday, August 22nd: Capricious Reader
Wednesday, September 4th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Thursday, September 5th: Apples and Arteries
Monday, September 9th: It’s All About Books
Tuesday, September 10th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Wednesday, September 11th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, September 12th: The Library of Alexandra