POPULATION: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time

Mike Perry, Author, Michael Perry, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-019852-7

When writer Perry returned to his tiny childhood town, New Auburn, Wisc., after 12 years away, he joined the village's volunteer fire and rescue department. Six years later, he'd begun to understand at last that "to truly live in a place, you must give your life to that place." These charming, discursive essays are loosely structured around the calls Perry responds to as a volunteer EMT, including everything from a collision at the local Laundromat to heart attacks, fires and suicides. Perry's mosaic of smalltown life also paints charming portraits of the town's memorable characters, such as the One-Eyed Beagle, another firefighter. Perry's insights into the small-town mentality come from apparent contemplation, and he writes about them with good humor, in prose reminiscent of Rick Bragg's: "The old man says he had a woozy spell, and so he took some nitroglycerin pills. This is like saying you had high blood pressure so you did your taxes." In spite of an enormous surprise in the final chapter, the book's lack of central conflict leaves it feeling desultory, like a collection of good magazine pieces rather than a propulsive chronicle of quirky small-towners à la John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Still, there are moments in which Perry achieves an unforced lyricism: "Rescue work is like jazz. Improvisation based on fundamentals." (Oct. 11)

Forecast:A blurb from Michael Korda—himself a recent aficionado of small-town living—and the current hoopla surrounding volunteer firemen and EMT workers will attract buyers to Perry's celebration of Middle America.

Reviewed on: 07/15/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-06-095807-7
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