Just a week ago, after reading Michael Perry’s upcoming book, [b:Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy|34217513|Montaigne in Barn Boots An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy|Michael Perry|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1491691011s/34217513.jpg|55268410], which was my first introduction to Perry, I decided to go back to the beginning and construct for myself his evolution as a writer. Several of the essays collected here were already published in an early book. I guess this collection is a “best of”, or something along the lines of Perry’s “greatest hits”. But from the beginning I was struck how the book might instead be about his regrets and a chance at setting the record straight now that he has achieved no little success as a writer. Section I, Around Here
, in the essay titled Big Things
, Perry kind of apologized, as a footnote, for his disingenuous comment that he believed now nine years later lowered the discourse to a level he would be forced to crawl out from. When I first read the essay with his original comment calling the bombastic radio celebrity [a:Rush Limbaugh|19794|Rush Limbaugh|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1212333320p2/19794.jpg] a big fat idiot
I immediately agreed with Perry’s evaluation and believed it fit for a buffoon the likes of Limbaugh who daily spews his reckless right-wing fire. But after some success as a man of letters, it is possible that Michael Perry has reevaluated his position and feels he could now attract some unwanted Limbaugh attention. Perry’s nine years spent as a volunteer fireman might also raise the stakes and suggest caution for maybe creating a fire of his own making. I do understand and suppose that Perry didn’t need to make that original comment, but I smiled to myself when I first read it.
The horror of September 11, 2001 demands action, but also words. Perry includes in this collection an essay titled Taking Courage
and it ranks in my mind as one of the best essays regarding that date in American history alongside another brilliant piece written by [a:David Foster Wallace|4339|David Foster Wallace|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1466019433p2/4339.jpg]. Perry stayed a safe distance away from the patriotic bent so many others seem to take and focussed instead on the contrast between the horror of the attack and its affect on our humanity, or lack thereof. It saddens me to think it took me over fifteen years to find this accomplished piece. Puzzling how the New Yorker
or almost any magazine that touts its great chops could have missed this fine work and failed to publish it. And pardon me, but same goes for my poem Mewl House in September
that remains absent every occasion of the remembrance of that date. Mewl House in September
It was the beauty
of the date, the
clearness of the
Imagine a fiery
bird hanging from a
word. And a
and the plumes
that made history.
The largeness of
dread, of humanity
covered with dust
and the violence of
the spade. The
polemical sense of
And the cloud of
horror in the order
to go about our
If my wife would have read Perry’s Houses on Hills
prior to my reading it she would have left her seat and come running for me, waving the book about like a handful of burning Fourth of July sparklers, insisting I sit down and read that essay right away. And that is what I am pleading us all to do. All of us need to be more aware of what we already know in our hearts to be true but are afraid to confront publicly. Our eyes, in this case, never lie. Disgusting architectural abominations dot our wondrous natural landscape and no amount of bad taste has initiated any slowdown I can see. Our constructions keep getting worse. But again, to my dismay, Perry adds another footnote at the end of this essay pointing out that his rereading of it ten years later seems to him a bit too snotty and that his essay failed to take into consideration these families hopes and struggles
. Fact is, Perry now runs into all these types of people and does business with some of them. But if it wasn’t for his own success he would have nothing to fear. What really makes Perry a great writer is his honesty, and what ruins artists in the long run is mediation. I am afraid for Perry of what [a:Gordon Lish|232097|Gordon Lish|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1267719924p2/232097.jpg] perpetually warned his students about. Celebrity and success is often poisonous to achieving great literature. Jeopardy always rules.
Section II titled Gearjammers
wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Essays regarding trucks and truckers and the whole over-the-road culture pretty much bores me even in light of the importance their work and life make to our country’s commerce and the dangers imposed by their massive machines sharing the road with so many dim-witted citizens who should never be behind the wheel in the first place. But I did suffer through the section of seven essays always in awe of Perry’s attempts and his enduring willingness to get a story.
I realized in Section III, On Tour
, while reading The Osmotic Elvis
that I was tiring of these short essays in a way that had nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the subject matter. I simply wanted Perry’s longer versions. I need entire books detailing one subject, and was feeling impatient and eager to end this collection of short essays and get onto the more important work of Michael Perry. Population: 485
awaited me on my shelf as well as every other book he has written since its publication. It did not take me long to figure out that Perry’s strength is in the long form. It is what makes him more accessible. He is a person you want to know. His shorter essays are good, but not great. Perry, for example, could have written an entire book on Elvis and made it worth reading. The Osmotic Elvis
was, in essence, for me, merely a tease.
In Section IV, The Body Electric
, it is obvious Perry becomes more personal. Less reportage on what is outside himself, and more focussed on what is within. One dire episode in his life dealing with a kidney stone demanded he write about it. It was good. Perry ends this section with an essay titled Catching at the Hems of Ghosts
and in it he covers death and funerals in a feel-good, light-hearted but solemn manner.
Section V, Way Off Main Street
, brings us on home and I am so dutifully prepared to get on to the business of reading his longer and more developed work. One final notation being another snide remark about Rush Limbaugh in People to Avoid on the Backpack Circuit
in which Perry adds some disparaging remarks about himself and his love for Snickers bars and then adds another one about his gadget disease
and the fact he packed a portable water purifier around Belize. Perry said this purifier was so good it “would separate Rush Limbaugh from a box of chocolates.” Made me smile again, and for a second, hoped there would not be another retraction at the end of the essay. But unfortunately, there was. But his Branding God
did get me. A fine essay regarding Perry’s stint as a young cowboy and his eventual rejection of his fundamental religious upbringing. One of the longest pieces in the book, and probably his most honest.
My pathetic response here to Perry’s collection of essays is one of my worst book reviews ever. One I probably should not have written. But nothing here really struck me as significant enough to make me want to digress into writing something more felt or meaningful to me. And in that, I suppose, as a whole, the book, though enjoyable, somewhat failed me.