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Here the local vigilante is a farmer's wife armed with a pistol and a Bible, the most senior member of the volunteer fire department is a cross-eyed butcher with one kidney and two ex-wives (both of whom work at the only gas station in town), and the back roads are haunted by the ghosts of children and farmers. Michael Perry loves this place. He grew up here, and now -- after a decade away -- he has returned.
Unable to polka or repair his own pickup, his farm-boy hands gone soft after years of writing, Mike figures the best way to regain his credibility is to join the volunteer fire department. Against a backdrop of fires and tangled wrecks, bar fights and smelt feeds, he tells a frequently comic tale leavened with moments of heartbreaking delicacy and searing tragedy.
Reproduced with permission from readinggroupguides.com
Michael Perry is a humorist and author of the bestselling memoirs Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time and Truck: A Love Story, the essay collection Off Main Street, and the upcoming memoir Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting. Perry has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Backpacker, Orion and Salon.com, and is a contributing editor to Mens Health. His essays have been heard on NPRs All Things Considered and he has performed and produced two live audience recordings (I Got It From the Cows and Never Stand Behind a Sneezing Cow). Perry lives in rural Wisconsin , where he remains active with the local volunteer rescue service. He can be found online at www.sneezingcow.com
Raised on a small dairy farm, Perry equates his writing career to cleaning calf pens just keep shoveling, and eventually youve got a pile so big, someone will notice. Perry further prepared for the writing life by reading every Louis LAmour cowboy book he could get his hands on most of them twice. He then worked for five summers on a real ranch in Wyoming , a career cut short by his fear of horses and an incident in which he almost avoided a charging bull. Based on a series of informal conversations held around the ol branding fire, Perry still holds the record for being the only cowboy in all of Wyoming who was simultaneously attending nursing school, from which he graduated in 1987 after giving the commencement address in a hairdo combining mousse spikes on top, a mullet in back, and a moustache up front otherwise known as the bad hair trifecta. Recently Perry has begun to lose his hair, and although his current classification varies depending on the lighting, he is definitely Bald Man Walking.
Perry has run a forklift, operated a backhoe, driven truck, worked as a proofreader and physical therapy aide and has distinguished himself as a licensed cycle rider by careening into a concrete bridge completely unassisted. He has worked for a surgeon, answered a suicide hotline, picked rock in the rain with an alcoholic transvestite, was a country music roadie in Switzerland , and once worked as a roller-skating Snoopy. He can run a pitchfork, milk a cow in the dark, and say I dont understand in French, Greek and Norwegian. He has never been bucked off a horse, and contends that falling off doesnt count. He is utterly unable to polka.
Interview with Michael Perry
1. Have you returned home after being away for an extended period? If so, what was it like? Was the town the same as you remembered? Did you choose to stay?
2. Does New Auburn remind you of your community or any community you have been to? While Perry highlights details intended to make New Auburn and some of its residents seem unique, is it possible that these details also make them more universal?
3. What is the small town dynamic? How does it differ from life in bigger cities? How is the small town dynamic replicated within segments of larger cities? Perry has said he enjoys exploring New York City. Might there not be comfort in the anonymity of a larger place?
4. Perry seems to deal with the notion of death and emergency situations very calmly and rationally. Are these abilities inherent, or can they be learned? How do you deal with similar situations? How did you feel when you read the line, "Puke is the great constant"?
5. Perry explores the stressful aspects of fire and ambulance calls, but he also suggests that even the worst calls weave themselves into a sense of history and place that is ultimately comforting. How does the passage of time contribute to this process? How might it differ from person to person?
6. Not everyone can go home or would want to. What is it in Perry's personality that draws him back to his hometown? Is finding your place in the community an active or a passive process?
7. If you could share a bowl of piping hot deep-fried cheese curds with one character in Population: 485, who would it be, and why?