Coop by Michael Perry. 352 pages. Harper Perennial. 2009.
…only a short-sighted churl would pass on the opportunity to haul his homegrown pigs from a one-handed butcher with two eyes to a one-eyed butcher with two hands.
While packing for my trip to New Orleans, I wondered if I should take two books. Would Coop last me through the flights and five nights in the Crescent City? I decided it would. As it turned out, I did not read a single word of it during the entire trip. (A post about New Orleans — almost a month late — is in the queue.)
After what seemed like forever, I managed to polish off Coop yesterday evening. Though it had its moments, I do not think it lives up to Perry’s previous books, especially Off Main Street and Truck. However, he once again gives readers a candid and absorbing look at his most recent obsessions, endeavors, and life experiences.
Coop takes over where Truck left off. Perry, his pregnant wife, and her six-year-old daughter have moved to a small farmstead in northern Wisconsin where the three (soon to be four) are beginning efforts to rely less on the grid. They want to live sustainably and self-sufficiently, growing as much of their own food as possible. In the first chapter, Perry is splitting firewood in January’s Arctic freeze, daydreaming about his plans for the farm. From there he chronicles the adventures and endeavors of the next three seasons: building a pigpen and chicken coop; raising pigs, “layers,” and “meat cell replicators on legs”; his wife’s choice to deliver their child at home, naturally; and the birth of his daughter. Braided into the narrative of current affairs are memories of his childhood on a dairy farm, which the back covers says Perry uses for “clues to how to proceed as a farmer, a husband, and a father.”
Coop showcases Perry’s memoir mastery. It is a testament to his ability to highlight life in pertinent and engrossing detail. The Amazon.com comment I read a long time ago hit the hammer on the head: Perry could make dirt interesting. His down-to-earth humor, openness (no matter how embarrassing to him), and tender memories, written with amazing clarity, make me feel like I know the guy.
Coop was classic Perry, but I could not help feeling the similarity to Truck. Perry has a knack for sometimes recycling his stories and descriptions — in the introductory author’s note he writes, “I have reached that point in my life when every other thing I say is something I’ve said before” — and the concept of Coop felt like it was made from 85 percent post-consumer material. (Which, fittingly, the chicken coop he built actually was.) Perry has a plan. He outlines the situation. He does a ton of reminiscing. He gets sidetracked. He talks about chickens and gardens. In the end everything comes together. Everyone continues doing what they do, awaiting the next Perry project. Yet the man still manages to impress.
Basically, Coop was good, insightful reading. ‘Nuff said.
New words I learned: Apparently, Michael Perry is becoming the new John McPhee. All definitions courtesy of my MacBook dictionary. Unctuous: “(of a person) excessively or ingratiatingly flattering.” Hortatory: “tending or aiming to exhort.” Interstitial: “of, forming, or occupying interstices.” Doula: “a person, usually a woman, who is professionally trained to assist a woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born.” Spelunking: “the exploration of caves, esp. as a hobby.” Coccyx: “a small, triangular bone at the base of the spinal column in humans and some apes, formed of fused vestigial vertebrae.” Furtive: “attempting to avoid notice or attention, typically because of guilt or a belief that discovery would lead to trouble; secretive.” Kiva: “a chamber, built wholly or partly underground, used by male Pueblo Indians for religious rites.” Sachet: “a small perfumed bag used to scent clothes.” Reconnoiter: “make a military observation of (a region).” Patrician: “an aristocrat or nobleman.” Turpitude: “depravity; wickedness.” Assiduous: “showing great care and perseverance.” Digitalis: “a drug prepared from the dried leaves of foxglove and containing substances (notably digoxin and digitoxin) that stimulate the heart muscle.” Soporific: “tending to induce drowsiness or sleep.” Nocturne: “a short [musical] composition of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically for piano.” Atrazine: “a synthetic compound used as an agricultural herbicide.” Maudlin: “self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness.” Peregrinate: “travel or wander around from place to place.” Sequela: “a condition that is the consequence of a previous disease or injury.” Passel: “a large group of people or things of indeterminate number; a pack.” Vituperation: “bitter and abusive language.” Syncope: “temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure.” Tincture: “a medicine made by dissolving a drug in alcohol.” Oeuvre: “the works of a painter, composer, or author regarded collectively.” Subcutaneous: “situated or applied under the skin.” Barre: “a horizontal bar at waist level on which ballet dancers rest a hand for support during exercises.” Equanimity: “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, esp. in a difficult situation.” Apostasy: “the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.” Aviary: “a large cage, building, or enclosure for keeping birds in.”