“Somewhere between Garrison Keillor’s idyllic-sweet Lake Wobegon and the narrow-mindedness of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street lies the reality of small-town life. This is where Michael Perry lives.”
—St. Paul Pioneer Press
“Perry can take comfort in the power of his writing, his ability to pull readers from all corners onto his Wisconsin spread, and make them feel right at home.”
Tuesdays with Morrie meets Bill Bryson in Visiting Tom, another witty, poignant, and stylish paean to living in New Auburn, Wisconsin, from Michael Perry. The author of Population: 485, Coop, and Truck: A Love Story, Perry takes us along on his uplifting visits with his octogenarian neighbor one valley over—and celebrates the wisdom, heart, and sass of a vanishing generation that embodies the indomitable spirit of small-town America.
Tom is 82-year-old Tom Hartwig, who lives in a classic twin-porched Wisconsin clapboard farmhouse down the road from Perry, his wife and daughters. As Perry puts it, "We live on a farm, but I am not a farmer." Instead, he plays music with his band, delivers lectures, and from his office over the garage he turns out magazine articles and books. He first wrote about his Wisconsin neighbors in Population: 485 and traveled back roads in Truck before covering rural rituals in Coop. In this outing, the rustic images of Wisconsin photographers John Shimon and Julie Lindemann serve as chapter intros and fuse with the text. A photo of a dust-covered cannon in Hartwig's cluttered workshop leads into Tom's account of making the cannon. Every object has a story, from lathe to sawmill: "This is the most complicated thing I ever built, he says, hands on his hips as he stares at the sawmill.... There's over a hunnerd pounds' a welding rods in that thing." Perry hopes his daughters will see the historical implications and "all the wisdom and history" in Tom's stories. Blending his own autobiography into Tom's profile, Perry plunges into the soul of the American heartland. While Foxfire fans will relish the emphasis on forgotten crafts and tools, others will appreciate Perry's gift as a bucolic wordsmith, etching a sensitive portrait of vanishing country life where "the light of a firefly is the size of a teardrop."
As Perry's visits to Tom often turn into periods of personal introspection, so Perry's writing led me to some profitable personal introspection. The story is much more than entertainment... but there's plenty of that too.