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Book Review

‘From the Top’ is from the heart

5/7/2014

book 5.8.jpgCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Fay Jones

Wisconsin Historical Society Press

11/25/13

$ 15.95

HIV

160 pp.

The Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, starting its 29th season, brings live performances — singing, dancing and storytelling — under a tent theater at the base of Mount Ashwabay Ski Area in northern Wisconsin. For several years, New York Times best-selling author Michael Perry has been “a grateful guest” hosting Tent Show Radio, a weekly one-hour program where many of the performances from the Big Top stage are recorded and broadcast. This new book houses some of the monologues Perry gives during intermission, where he is “allowed to ramble on about whatever comes to mind.”

From coffee to the cosmos, sociopathic clowns to pickup trucks, chicken coop campouts to languorous barn cats, the essays are delivered with Perry’s usual hilarity, contemplative nature and humanity. If you’ve read any of Perry’s other works, some pieces here may be familiar, as he drew on material from his books for a few of the monologues. He has “tuned a few things,” striving for a conversational tone and a folksiness that lends itself “better on the ear than the eye.” Each piece is brief so that it adheres to his six-minute time frame on the show, and, although they are grouped by theme, they can be read in any order.

Music plays a big role both in the tent show programs and in Perry’s life, as he describes its “power to evoke long-gone days.” He tells how a Greg Brown song came to mind as he was up at night with a sick child, how “the time-bending power of music” helped him deal with the loss of a friend and how it feels to be “singing from (his) boots” onstage with his own band, the Long Beds.

Writing about family, friends, neighbors and strangers, Perry has a certain ability to entertain, touch the heart and honor life. 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.

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