‘Visiting Tom’ an honest account of farm folk8/7/2013
Courtesy of Beaverdale Books
Review by Fay Jones
Michael Perry’s new book “Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace” is a beautiful portrait of his neighbor, Tom Hartwig. Perry lives on a small farm in Wisconsin near where he grew up.
Tom is in his early 80s and has lived on his farm since the day he was born. He remains a steadfast inhabitant despite the Wisconsin government’s insistent billowing through his property in the mid-’60s, dissecting his farm with a heavily-travelled interstate highway. Although Tom doesn’t simmer with bitterness over the harsh intrusion, he doesn’t — and can’t — forget it, either.
Tom presides over a captivating workshop on his farm, out of which he fabricates custom parts, makes repairs, creates antique cannons that he fires on his property and tells stories. Perry visits often and listens to stories. Through these visits, Perry absorbs a lot, whether about machinery repairs, beekeeping or fatherhood. He chronicles Tom’s life and their friendship, illustrating him as a notable man of wisdom, self-sufficiency, tenderness, invention and zaniness… perhaps not unlike someone you may know.
Perry confronts his own road issues, another main course of the book, as the county government embarks on an alteration to an intersection near his home, rendering it unsafe for his family when snowy conditions are present. And he writes of his own family as they persist in their goals of balancing life on a small farm with their children and other pursuits. He once again finds a compelling story in a small place and relays it with humor, wit and poetry. Photographs by renowned artists John Shimon and Julie Lindemann — shot using an antique 8-by-10 view camera — grace the pages with elegant, stirring portraits of Tom, enhancing Perry’s own observations with reverence. CV
Fay Jones was born with a love of literature, which was finely shored up throughout her early years by her parents and a beloved children’s librarian who wore the thickest glasses ever manufactured. She once won a free ice cream cone for naming the local Reading Is Fundamental mascot.