Michael Perry – Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting (2009, HarperCollins, New York)
On the surface, Coop is simple: it’s a book about Michael Perry building a chicken coop. The reader soon finds out that it’s more than that…it’s actually a tapestry of carefully-woven stories about parenting, farming, religion, and the cycles of life and death.
The chicks have arrived, and I am taking Amy to meet them…. When we arrive, Billy and Margie lead us into the garage, where the chicks are being kept in a wading pool lined with wood chips. They are a sprightly, multicolored bunch, warm under the heat-lamp light. Amy peers over the edge at them, and immediately her eyebrows knit, not in a frown but in that universal feminine look of care. “Oohhh,” she says. “Can I hold one?” There was a time Billy doubled as a bartender and bouncer in the type of taverns you enter through a small dark door. He rode a thunderous motorcycle and had the size to back down any man. Today he remains an imposing figure, but his spirit is gentle and he engraves tombstones for a living. A man who has gone from bare-knuckle to Basho, he seems the perfect fellow to carve the dates of your birth and death, so wide is the breadth of his understanding. Now he reaches into the blue swimming pool, carefully closing a chick within the cavern of his roughened hands, and passes it gently to Amy, his blackened nails and shredded calluses…of another creature in contrast to Amy’s soft white palms and slender fingers open wide to receive the bird. Carefully she closes her hands until the chick is cupped within, then draws it to her face and inclines her cheek to its fuzzy head.
I can’t believe I’ve never read any of Perry’s work before – it’s a situation that must be remedied, immediately. Coop kept me alternatingly in stitches and in tears, and it’s so well told that I can’t help but gush. This is what good writing should be, what a personal narrative should read like – it’s really sheer beauty. Please…treat yourself with this book.