What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons?Read more...
What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons? Visit by visit--often with his young daughters in tow--author Michael Perry is about to find out.
Toiling in a shop Perry describes as "an antique store stocked by Rube Goldberg, curated by Hunter Thompson, and rearranged by a small earthquake," Tom Hartwig makes gag shovel handles, parts for quarter-million-dollar farm equipment, and--now and then--batches of potentially "extralegal" explosives. As he approaches his sixtieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Arlene, Tom, famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, has an endless reservoir of stories dating back to days of his prize Model A, and an anti-authoritarian streak refreshed daily by the four-lane interstate that was shoved through his front yard in 1965 and now dumps over 8 million vehicles past his kitchen window every year. And yet "Visiting Tom "is dominated by the elderly man's equanimity and ultimately--when he and Perry converse over the kitchen table as husbands and as the fathers of daughters--unvarnished tenderness.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-05-28
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)