Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace
Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: Farming & Rural Life
Synopsis: Perry discusses his friend Tom, his rural life, and parenting daughters.
Date finished: 9 October 2013
Comments:Whenever I want a can’t-fail read, I pick up a Mike Perry book. His last, Coop, was my absolute favorite, but I’ve enjoyed them all. This one, though, I put off reading (even buying!) for a while, because the subject matter didn’t interest me. I knew I’d read it someday, but I didn’t feel in a big hurry. But then I read several bloggers’ reviews and decided it was high time.
Well, it was a “guy book,” but his writing is so flawless that didn’t even matter. He’s one of those grocery-list writers (you’d read anything they write, including their grocery list).
And here’s the thing. I know Mike Perry. Though we were a good ten years apart, we attended the same university (he in nursing, me in English) and ended up running in the same literary circle for a number of years. We used to be on reading lineups together. I was always fearful that I’d have to read my work after Mike read his. And now he’s a well-respected writer with books on the best seller lists. So, I feel a kind of little sister mixture of awe and pride.
I heard him read from Visiting Tom a few months ago at a university conference. As always, he brought the house down. He wore black jeans and an open plaid flannel shirt over a T-shirt—standard rural uniform in these parts. He kept his head down in a bashful sort of way. He’s a genuine guy. What you see is what you get. And he’s funny as heck. If you ever get a chance to attend his readings, please do.
Innywho. The book.
What I love about Mike’s books is the setting. I grew up not far from where he did, and I still live in that area. The Interstate he talks about in the book (I-94) is one I’ve traveled my whole life—one way out of Eau Claire takes me to the Twin Cities and the other way takes me “home.” (The Interstate ran close to my grandmother’s home, and I remember falling asleep to the whoosh of cars when I stayed at her house. The Interstate also ran not far from the Drive-Inn where I worked as a carhop for four summers. Our boss made us were blaze orange polyester aprons so we’d be seen by travelers on the Interstate.) The attitudes, the people, and especially, the speech, in his books are all the comforts of my childhood. People accuse him of being too Garrison Keillor, and say his down home ah-shucks mannerisms are put on. He might exaggerate a little bit, embellish for effect. For instance, I’ve never met anyone around these parts who actually said, “I reckon.” But for the most part, what you read in his books is pretty much how farming folks up here live. He chooses his details beautifully. When Perry uses words like “hunnerd bucks,” “some’a them,” “n’that,” “blankety-blank,” and “as the crow flies,” I can do nothing but nod my head in recognition of my people. God bless Perry for putting it on paper.
I was flabbergasted at how much I enjoyed a book essentially about highways, farming, cannons, lathes, sawmills, and snowplows. Often when he’d explain how a certain piece of equipment was constructed or ran, I was unable to follow, but that didn’t really bother me. I was never bored, and I knew the payoff for the more man-ish parts was just around the corner. I laughed out loud several times reading this, and my husband can attest how rarely that happens in my reading.
I’d rank this as my second favorite of his books. I’m not sure he’ll ever top Coop for the way it brought me back to my childhood, but it takes a fine book to come in second to Coop. You know I don’t rank books 5 out 5 stars every day.
I can’t recommend Mike’s books enough to someone looking for an outstanding memoir and unparalleled writing, wit, and warmth.
Would you recommend this to a friend?You betcha!
You might also enjoy:Coop