Whether he's fighting fires, passing a kidney stone, hammering down I-80 in an 18-wheeler, or meditating on the relationship between cowboys and God, Michael Perry draws on his rural roots and footloose past to write from a perspective that merges the local with the global.
Ranging across subjects as diverse as lot lizards, Klan wizards, and small-town funerals, Perry's writing in this wise and witty collection of essays balances earthiness with poetry, kinetics with contemplation, and is regularly salted with his unique brand of humor.
Perry, who chronicled smalltown life in Population 451, collects some previously published essays for this countrified collection. The author likes to write about bighearted truckers, country and blues musicians, itinerant barnyard butchers and other such characters. As he puts it, "I reckon I'm a pickup-truck-coveting blue-collar capitalist"; a guy who "wouldn't know tapis vert from Diet Squirt." But the wholesome subject of America's heartland doesn't jibe with Perry's sometimes crotchety attitude. He writes of being annoyed when he's cut off in traffic by someone driving "one of those yappy little four-wheel drive pickups" sporting a "No Fear" decal. What would that guy know about fear, he wonders? The incident prompts Perry to recall a sugarcane hauler he met while hitchhiking in Belize, a man whose situation he was poor and held a dangerous job made him, Perry assumes, intimately acquainted with fear. The book brims with alternately thought-provoking and pointless ramblings like these, as Perry visits the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington with 270,000 motorcycle-riding war veterans, stays at a hotel in Belize City and overhears a prostitute in the room next to his, and experiences other adventures. Generally, however, Perry's hit-or-miss writing combined with his "been-there-done-that" attitude ("I've seen a bunch of territory with my backpack right behind me. Fifteen or sixteen countries, something like that") make for a wearisome reading experience.