Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Population: 485 - Meeting Your Neighbor One Siren at a Time

I like to read.  I read a lot, actually, and have a general opinion about everything I read.  From magazine articles to cereal boxes to books to political pieces.... I have an opinion.

I like biographies the best.  Every once in awhile I read a book and find myself so delved in that I don’t want it to end.  Like the little kid afraid to turn the page with Grover and find the Monster at the End of the Book, I hesitate the page turning in hopes to prolong the inevitable.

Population: 485 : Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry was exactly that kind of book. 

I probably would never have picked it up to read on my own.  It’s about small town life, which I’m living enough of these days.  Stories of a volunteer EMT/firefighter, of which I know nothing.   A co-worker, however, suggested the book to me.  “He writes like you.  I think you’d like it a lot.”

Like me?  Well, now that makes a difference.  Maybe I could unravel the mystery of why anyone reads my rambles.  After having read Michael Perry, I understand what she was saying, but he and I are very different.  I am honored to have the comparison made. I think what she meant was we write with the same first-person transparency.  But I am nowhere near as polished and smart as Perry.

I hope I write like him when I grow up.  I hope my words will shift someone’s paradigms, but that’s hard to measure.

What did I like about the book?  I liked how it drew me in and made me want to know more.  I liked his turns of phrases, use of language and honesty.  I liked the funny stories, the poignant memories and the simple portraits drawn adjective by adjective. 

What didn’t I like?  Well, it ended much too soon for me.  I felt as though I was finally getting to know the characters and then it ended!  There I was all alone again without my new-found friends.  Ugh!  Where’s the justice?  I want to know more!  

It’s honestly been awhile since I’ve gotten so involved with the characters of a book that I felt I could recognize them walking down the street.  That’s how much life Michael Perry gives to characters.  Although, to be honest, his characters are real people and perhaps that’s why they are so alive in these pages.

Perry’s viewpoint is the key to what I love and hate about this work. I haven’t quite come to terms with, haven’t quite gotten a grasp of, don’t understand mostly the small town culture.  There I said it.  I’m a city girl.  Urban bred.  I know how to behave in a world of clashing, clanging, clinging dust and noise.  Navigating personal city relationships is an easy thing for me. 

Small town life, not so much.

Perry’s insight into cause and effect of small town culture was a treasure trove of references for me.  Why people talk about some things and not others, how people perceive my intentions, which actions are intrusive, which are expected.... it’s all different in a small town because everyone is so intrinsically connected.  Everyone is related somehow. 

In a city, people are expected to come and go frequently.  Ties are less binding.  Change is the only constant.  There is a freedom in knowing you will acquire other friends as time moves along in a shifting city.  Small towns are made of  consistency, of continuity, of connections.  Relationships are slower to bond and have older foundations.

At the end of a particularly tragic scene in Population: 485, Perry comments on the comfort of sharing grief with those who have shared most of his family’s history.  The chord that binds these families and friends together is beautiful and mysterious to me.

Michael Perry will sit on the shelf of  favorite authors in my mind.  He joins Mitch Albom and Andrew Bridge on the list of those I’d like to meet to thank for changing my perspectives. 

I highly recommend Population: 485.  I have just dug into Truck, A Love Story and can’t wait to meet the truck, and the love, of his life.  Maybe this one will teach me how to be a writer when I grow up.

If you want to know more about Michael Perry's work, his website is here:  SneezingCow

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