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Coop

A gentleman farmer and writer savors the rhythms of life on the land.

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Michael Perry’s life, now the subject of a third memoir, is not an extraordinary one. In less talented hands, the stories he recounts in Coop would merely have been the subject of an unusually busy holiday letter. But in Perry’s engrossing narration, they take on the heft of history, dotted with rueful humor and stories that beg to be performed aloud.

Coop, subtitled “A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting,” chronicles Perry’s move to a farmstead owned by his wife’s family, and their experiences acquiring livestock, awaiting a baby’s birth, parenting an older daughter, and facing unexpected deaths. It’s also the story of his own childhood on a farm: Perry was eldest in a large family that combined “a sliding scale” of birth and foster siblings.

The book’s beginning chapters jump among years and topics in the style of Perry’s past writings, and it’s a bumpy ride until readers settle into the rhythm of his memories. But as the parallels between past and present multiply, we see them more clearly as parts of the same timeless story of families and land.

Perry, a contributing editor to Men’s Health, is a professional writer but a gentleman farmer, confessing that he splits firewood to clear his mind as much as to heat the home, aware that “a simple move to the country” will not automatically equate to a simpler life. He is chronically “overdreamed and underbudgeted” as he juggles writing commitments with farm responsibilities such as a building a pig shelter and chicken coop.

His specific experiences are not universal, but the lessons he draws from them are, as with “the 37th time” he describes plans to save money by fencing the yard and acquiring sheep to serve as living lawnmowers and later sources of profit. His wife responds with her vision of the farmer on yet another speaking engagement, “talking about writing and raising sheep – meanwhile, I’m running through the brush with a howling six-month-old under one arm and dragging a bawling seven-year-old behind me with the other arm while we try to get the sheep back inside a hole in the cobbled-up fence.

“This is very hard on my pride, and pretty much on the money.”

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