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Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting

Review

Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting

Michael Perry's new farm was not much like the one he grew up
on. It didn't have sheep or cows --- in fact, it had no animals at
all. It lacked the noise of a big family; there was just Perry and
his wife, Anneliese, and young daughter Amy. But this small family
had dreams of free-range chickens, a bountiful garden and fat pigs,
and set out to make their newly acquired patch of Wisconsin land
home. Perry chronicles their first year on the farm in his latest
book, COOP.

In the course of the year, as they settled in to farm life,
something Perry and his wife are both familiar with, the family
finds small joys in watching chickens and enormous joys in the
birth of their baby daughter. They suffer the loss of family
members and dear friends, and work hard in homeschooling Amy,
raising two pigs and maintaining the land. All the while Perry
still works as a freelance writer, a job that takes him away from
home more often than he'd like.

As much as Perry is writing about trying to build a home for his
growing family and create a certain level of sustainability and
self-sufficiency, he is also writing about his childhood and the
Wisconsin farm that he himself lived on growing up. Raised by
caring and open-hearted parents who were members of a little known,
religiously conservative Protestant group, Perry was surrounded by
siblings and family friends, and was expected to work hard on the
farm. He and his wife hope to instill much of his parents’
wisdom in their daughters, but they also have their own strong
ideas about family and farming.

In attempting to find a balance between the two worldviews,
Perry shares his thoughts, his successes (raising two healthy pigs
for slaughter) and failures (a 50% chicken mortality rate), his
moments of pride and his storms of frustration. While his life is
not a typical middle-class existence, his hopes, fears,
exasperations and jokes will resonate with readers from all
different backgrounds.

Perry’s memories of his parents, brothers, sisters and the
foster children who lived with them are written with honesty and
kindness. These are the same qualities that characterize his
writing overall. From livestock auctions to home births, from coop
building to funerals, Perry shines when documenting the everyday
and has a talent for making the everyday extraordinary. His style
is humorous but sometimes melancholy, bold and
self-deprecating.

Though sometimes a bit repetitive and prone to too much skipping
about in time, COOP is a fun and compelling read. Perry is a
likable host and guide to mid-western sensibility and the
intricacies and rhythms of rural life. In the first pages, he
writes, “[W]e are going rural in the hope that we might
become more self-sufficient in terms of firewood, an expanded
garden, and perhaps a pair of pigs.” But quickly after
reading this, it becomes obvious that Perry and his family are
embarking on a grander journey. They are exploring the concept of
roots, literally and figuratively: examining the meaning of home,
family and community with their hands in the soil tending to other
kinds of growing things.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 28, 2010

Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting
by Michael Perry

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2009
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0061240435
  • ISBN-13: 9780061240430