Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

In his new book Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting, Michael Perry of northwest Wisconsin has moved with his new family into an old farmhouse with thirty-seven acres that could lie fallow while he prospers by writing. Having been raised on a family farm, however, Perry lives by principles, which include making the most of what you have. Though he never intended to become a farmer and is still reluctant to call himself one, he buys chickens and pigs.

Raising chickens and pigs is more work than you might imagine if you've never lived on a farm. A good portion of his year involves planning to build a chicken coop and pens for the pigs, learning about breeds, shopping for his livestock, feeding and caring for the creatures once he has them, and slaughtering them for meat. A less talented writer could make this pretty boring, but Perry uses it all to connect with his childhood and to muse on his future.

Readers may sense that Perry has lost some of the harder edge that he had in Population: 485. That's okay. Falling in love in Truck and raising children in the new book give him a new sense of purpose that requires a softened heart. He can, however, still write with clarity and honestly, free from sentimentality. Perhaps this skill comes from the same reserve that allows him to wring the necks of chickens with personal names.

As in Population: 485, there is tragedy, this time a nephew's death. In its wake he writes the following when visiting his parents' house:

And finally I climb the stairs to bed, to one of my childhood bedrooms, and stare straight up in the dark. I am remembering that before Jane was born, I was talking to a friend about how it was when he went from one child to two. "Love expands," he said, "to fit the need." I am wondering grief can do the same.

I found the stories of his parents fostering and adopting many children quite interesting. They certainly expanded their hearts. Readers may, too.

Perry, Michael. Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting. Harper, 2009. ISBN 9780061240430.

By the way, Citizen Reader in including Population: 485 in her summer book menage.

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