A Love Story
by Michael Perry
reviewed by Erin C. Connor
HarperCollins Publishers, 2006, $24.95, 304 pages.
Review published in the May/June 2007 issue of Orion magazine
Michael Perry is an ordinary guy living in Auburn, a small town in Wisconsin, with a not-so-ordinary ability to capture the small events that, once laced together, make up the colorful fabric of life. He begins the year, and his book, modestly enough, with a desire to restore his old International truck, rusting in front of his house, and to once again do battle with the squirrels in his meager garden. The truck has lain untouched for months, while the garden has fared little better. Unable to contain his excitement, Perry begins to plot his vegetable beds in January, poring over seed catalogues that, he writes with delightfully twangy humor, “are responsible for more unfulfilled fantasies than Enron and Playboy combined.”
True to the book’s title, Perry eventually rolls up his sleeves and haphazardly gets to work on the truck (not unlike John Jerome in his 1977 book of the same title). As also promised, Perry falls in love. His courtship of, and ultimate marriage to, Anneliese Scherer is unabashedly sweet, but it’s not the only love story in this book. Perry is the kind of guy who prefers to read sexual Dylan verses as gardening poems (though his descriptions of growing and cooking his own food border on lusty), and his book is more about his quietly arduous and often hilarious love affair with life in Auburn.
Perry rejoices over living in a town where he can throw a washing machine in his yard and no one thinks the worse of him, the bartender refuses to sell light beer on principle, women drive trucks, and brothers look after each other for ever and ever, amen. Writing about the grief that almost swallowed his brother after the death of his wife, Perry describes the terse and constant love that held him back: “No hugging or gnashing of teeth, just a refusal to let Jed go blind in the cave. . . . In the end, the broken circle closed beautifully.” The book ends, having ticked away each month of the year noting the changes in landscape—both external and internal—in a way that celebrates the place you give your heart to, and the people that inhabit that place.