Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway and the Road to Roughneck Grace

Michael Perry. Harper, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-189444-2
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Tom is 82-year-old Tom Hartwig, who lives in a classic twin-porched Wisconsin clapboard farmhouse down the road from Perry, his wife and daughters. As Perry puts it, “We live on a farm, but I am not a farmer.” Instead, he plays music with his band, delivers lectures, and from his office over the garage he turns out magazine articles and books. He first wrote about his Wisconsin neighbors in Population: 485 and traveled back roads in Truck before covering rural rituals in Coop. In this outing, the rustic images of Wisconsin photographers John Shimon and Julie Lindemann serve as chapter intros and fuse with the text. A photo of a dust-covered cannon in Hartwig’s cluttered workshop leads into Tom’s account of making the cannon. Every object has a story, from lathe to sawmill: “This is the most complicated thing I ever built, he says, hands on his hips as he stares at the sawmill.... There’s over a hunnerd pounds’ a welding rods in that thing.” Perry hopes his daughters will see the historical implications and “all the wisdom and history” in Tom’s stories. Blending his own autobiography into Tom’s profile, Perry plunges into the soul of the American heartland. While Foxfire fans will relish the emphasis on forgotten crafts and tools, others will appreciate Perry’s gift as a bucolic wordsmith, etching a sensitive portrait of vanishing country life where “the light of a firefly is the size of a teardrop.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/28/2012
Release date: 08/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 319 pages - 978-1-61173-562-8
Paperback - 310 pages - 978-0-06-189446-6
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