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Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren At A Time (2003)

Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time (2003)
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3.91 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
0060958073 (ISBN13: 9780060958077)
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English
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harper perennial
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Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbo...
Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren At A Time (2003)

About book: WARNING: Possibly ill-advised, slightly intoxicated soap-boxing lies ahead. Proceed at your own risk.The title of this book is slightly misleading in that it implies Michael Perry will introduce the reader to a rich, quirky swath of characters who inhabit a very small town. While there are a few folks who shine through, such as Beagle the cock-eyed firefighter, [i]Population: 485[/i] is mostly a detailed account of what goes into being a volunteer firefighter. For that, I appreciated it as this is a subset of the American populace I have given little thought to and I enjoy learning about trades/hobbies/subsets that I would otherwise never learn about. Mostly, Perry just describes different calls he has gone on: Cutting a woman from the wreckage of her car; pursuing a drunken man from another car wreck through the snowy Wisconsin woods until the police (the people paid to deal with such things) showed up; resuscitating a dairy farmer who had collapsed in his barn and setting up a piece of plywood to blockade the cow shit and piss raining on him from every direction. These are pretty good stories and I enjoyed reading them for the most part, though somehow this book failed to entirely rivet me. It's well written enough; Perry can certainly weave a sentence (though one can feel him straining for the kind of deep thoughts that breed philosophical immortality), and his first-aid action sequences can be quite suspenseful. And yet, his manly-literary cultivation didn't jibe for me with his parallel self-assessment as a small-town rube at heart. It's not that I want him to look, talk and sound like a hick... I guess I just expect someone as well read as Perry, and as deeply insightful as he struggles to be, to be a little more critical of the world around them. I have been to small towns such as the one depicted in this book. I dated a lovely girl from much less lovely Prineville, Oregon, and spent countless hours in that town, with her family and friends. While I saw plenty of the good ol' down-home kindness, trust, and friendliness that drips off every page of [i]Population: 485[/i], I also saw plenty of poverty-line alcoholism, emotional and physical violence, and the kind of ignorant, deluded, traditionalist conservatism that gets people like Bush into office and gives people like McCain and Sara Palin a viable, terrifying chance. I saw this everywhere I went in that small town, and in other small towns like it, and I am pretty sure if it is like that in Oregon small towns it's almost certainly like that in Wisconsin small towns. I don't consider myself a bleeding heart liberal; I like to think I am tolerant and open to all points of view. As I said, I've experienced great kindness and generosity in small towns, but time after time I've also experienced a kind of self-destruction. A bull-headed demographic that often hurts itself with its personal and political choices, then puts up stubborn resistance to anything different. Now, this may be a bad time for me to write this... I'm slightly drunk and terrified of the huge impact Sara Palin is having on our country, the love her lies and vitriol and spite is pulling forth from the very people and towns Perry is writing about. I'm sick and tired of misinformed, uneducated folks buying this garbage and I want to cry at the thought of another four years of an administration that cares nothing for the very people who happily, thoughtlessly elect it into office because it looks pretty and gleefully offers no change whatsoever and subsequently no challenge to our "cherished" American values. Because of the mood I'm in, Perry's book didn't feel like a loving ode to the quaintness of small-town livin' but an inflated, incurious glossing of the facade of a dark underbelly. I admire Perry's selfless choice to be a first-response emergency technician who doesn't even get paid for what he does, but I also can't believe that when he says he goes out on over a hundred calls a year, that he does not face the true blights under the surface of Americana every week. My questions are, why has the dairy farmer collapsed in his barn from heart failure? Why did the woman have to be pried from her car that was cut open like a tin can? The cynical part of me says the answers are because he ate nothing but meat and potatoes every day of his life and probably smoked a pack a day as well, and because she was drunk as fuck, or run off the road by someone else who was drunk as fuck. Of course, such problems plague even the most cosmopolitan walks of life, but the thing is, the cosmopolitans have no shortage of informed, articulate critics to keep us in check. Perry propagates himself shamelessly as a well-read, literate observer of the human race and its issues, and thus should be the best equipped to analyze both the highs and the lows of the place he allegedly loves. Instead, he is content to describe yet another situation that involved administering CPR or ramming a tube down some poor rube's throat, then gets back to his good ol' boy roots fishin' for carp or huntin' some deer. If I wasn't currently blaming places like New Auburn, the town Perry calls home, for instilling fear and shame in me of this country, I might let this slide. But I am, and so I want more from an intellect who has contributed to both NPR and the New Yorker. Maybe it's silly to project my animosity on a book about firefighting that was published in 2002, but the Bush administration was already in full swing by then, and Perry was and is embedded in the thick of the world that made it happen. That he not only fails to acknowledge that fact but seems entirely unaware of it, makes me view his relentless rural poeticizing as the literary equivalent of lipstick on a pig. Indeed, the entire ruse of the wholesomeness of small-town America is the greatest lip-sticked pig of them all, the very poison at the heart of our country's most fundamental problems. And any alleged "literature" written in this century by allegedly intelligent people that refuses to acknowledge that truth shall never be embraced by my heart, no matter how easy to read it is.

I read the sequel to this book first, Truck: A Love Story, when it came across the counter at the library. I loved it and sought out any other books by the author Michael Perry.And I loved Population: 485 too! Writers that can hold a conversation with you, make you laugh, and bring on a tear or two are rarefied in my mind. He's very relate-able, and I think even if I wasn't from a rural small town I'd still identify with his portrayal of people and the way he weaves the everyday with musings about what makes this life worth living. People living the happiness and tragedy that happens in life. The stories build up a picture of his community, New Auburn, but really, they're pieces of all our stories.Some bits (a bit lengthy but lovely) that I happened to mark:"Having done my grumbling, it seems to me that the globalization of human experience via everything from satellite feeds to online kipper boutiques is good news to the extent that even the most reclusive among us receive daily updates on the complications of the human condition. There was a time when ignorance-and the prejudice it fostered-could be grossly excused as a result of cultural or geographical isolation. Nowadays, ignorance must be willfully tended, like a stumpy mushroom under a bucket. Light is hitting more and more of the earth. Trouble thrives, but more and more humans share a general sense of life as it is on this spinning rock, and that is due, in large part, to war correspondents in Kabul, The Food Network, and lesbian chat rooms.""Sometimes I go to the forest and prepare to die. So far, I've simply fallen asleep, but it strikes me that sleeping directly on the dirt is good practice for the Big Nap. I usually conduct these rehearsals while hunting. I'll put my rifle down and curl up on a patch of leaves, or settle against the base of a solid white pine-if the air is crisp and I can cop a patch of sun, c'est magnifique......to sleep in the presence of trees and in the proximity of the earth is to get a sense of what it is to be holy. They say when Christ needed to get his head together, he did forty days in the wilderness. I stop at forty winks, but I believe I get a taste of what he was after. When I sleep on the forest floor, I never feel as if I'm simply taking a nap. I feel as if I'm performing some sort of embryonic ritual. When I awaken, I feel as if some important work has been done. This is not rest-this is ablution. By placing myself on the altar of the earth and retiring my defenses, I am receding within myself, plucking a little transcendence from the perpetually gnashing jaws of time."And how 'bout one more:"The window glass was cool on my cheek, and Wisconsin slipped away in swipes of white and brown. Motion wed itself to freedom, and from that day forward, I incubated a stray-dog jones for the road. It is a quasi-spiritual thing, in which the pilgrimage is the religion, and movement is the purest form of worship. The altars are harbored in truck stops and train stations, the sacraments are served in foam cups, and heaven glows on the horizon. You will desire hymns performed by the prophets Waylon Jennings, Junior Brown, and Steve Earle...but as much as I love to run, I love even more to come home."
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Reviews
Dave Gaston
A very strong series of home spun short stories. Perry’s comfortable prose is deceptive in it’s simplicity. His readers can’t help but foster a rich empathy for his off-beat characters (and neighbors). Perry’s life as a volunteer fireman offer a vivid and humane perspective from the other side of a 9-1-1 emergency call. A cornerstone of the man’s personal philosophy is his strong believe in “place” and “community.” Know your town and know your people; find away to meaningfully connect with both. Grow roots, bare fruit, offer shade. Pretty simple stuff, well worth relearning from a master story teller.
Champaign Public Library
I'm always on the lookout for authentic Midwestern writers, particularly those who accurately portray small town life, and I'm thrilled to have found Michael Perry. Native of the tiny burg of New Auburn, Wisconsin, Perry was a farm boy who left home for the writing life and a variety of other occupations. When he returned to his hometown, he correctly determined that joining the volunteer fire department would be a good way to reintegrate. Population: 485 is filled with stories of the residents he meets on his emergency calls and the array of characters that serve with him. Their stories are sometimes tragic, sometimes laugh-out-load funny, and always well-told by a talented author who views the "big questions" through the lens of these experiences.Perry's 2009 book, Coop: a year of poultry, pigs and parenting, was also a great read and I look forward to enjoying all of his other works.
Shonna Froebel
Having read his book Truck: a Love Story, I was interested in reading more. This book actually was written before Truck and contains chapters about his work both as an EMS and as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of New Auburn, Wisconsin. Perry puts it all out there, including the sad, happy, embarrassing, and comic. He talks about working with his brothers and mother, how his work as a firefighter linked him back to his community, and shows a variety of personalities in both his coworker and his fellow citizens. This is a story of a small town, human relationships, and self discovery.Perry is an excellent writer who finds the humour in every situation and yet doesn't take advantage of his insight to belittle others or make himself a hero.This is a book to read slowly and savour every bit, which is what I did, carrying it around for a long time in my purse, reading it in stolen moments when waiting for appointments or taking a quiet moment for myself. I'm now lending it to my dad, who enjoys Perry just as much as I do.
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