“I am a stranger in a strange town, and the man standing beside me has just removed his pants.” Thus opens Michael Perry’s latest book, Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets, and Gatemouth’s Gator.
Unlike Perry’s last book, Population 451: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Off Main Street is a collection of previously published material. Much of the work was published in the mid to late Nineties in a variety of periodicals.
Perry is a salt-of-the-earth writer. He appreciates truckers, country music, hunting, and home cooking far more than he appreciates the nodding approval of coastal book critics. His style is a curious mix of everyday slang and those relatively uncommon words–like “perspicacity”–writers love to sprinkle in their works to flex their linguistic muscles.
In general, this book is much weaker than Population 451. That’s less an indictment of this book that it would seem; it is more praise for the earlier book. Population 451 was a very compelling work and one that I would recommend to nearly anybody.
Perry’s evolution as a writer can be seen when one compares some of the earlier essays in this collection with his later essays and books. The lack of a unifying theme also seems to hurt his writing as many of his essays sound particularly preachy when they don’t have as much room to stretch out and find their center.
That’s not to say that Perry’s work is worth skipping entirely. He does have some cogent things to say. His writing about the 9/11 attacks could very well be applied to the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast today:> [T]he battle will not always live up to the telethon. Resolutions of substance generally require heavy lifting and extended attention to the mundane.
His essay detailing his battle with a kidney stone is both wince and grin inducing.> [W]hen I looked across the median of I-80 during a recent road trip and saw a westbound semi emblazoned with the words American Kidney Stone Management, I got so misty I nearly left the roadway. Somewhere out there someone else was gasping like a scuppered carp, and here, apparently piloted by angels, was a white Kenworth, its hood ornament aimed at kidney stones everywhere. Sweet, sweet relief, hammer down.
There is something about Perry’s writing that makes me feel like I’m curled up on a sofa in a remote mountain cabin reading before a wood fire while snow gently falls outside. Perhaps it’s his subject matter; perhaps it is the fact I know he writes from his home in northwestern Wisconsin. That is a mystery I have yet to solve.
Regardless, I recommed that you read this book if you need a few generally well-written essays to bridge the long, upcoming winter to next spring.