Title: Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time
Author: Michael Perry
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: July 31, 2007
Book Source: Library
Welcome to New Auburn, Wisconsin, where the local vigilante is a farmer’s wife armed with a pistol and a Bible, the most senior member of the volunteer fire department is a cross-eyed butcher with one kidney and two ex-wives (both of whom work at the only gas station in town), and the back roads are haunted by the ghosts of children and farmers. Against a backdrop of fires and tangled wrecks, bar fights and smelt feeds, Population: 485 is a comic and sometimes heartbreaking true tale leavened with quieter meditations on an overlooked America.
This was a fantastic read, although I may be a bit biased since I live in a small village in Wisconsin. Michael Perry is a wonderful storyteller, and his those skills shine in this memoir. Even though this is a small town, I think readers will see many similarities with people in their own neighborhoods, even if you live in a big city. Perry often says that he stays a bit apart from the community, but the way he writes with such depth and emotion about the various people in the town, makes it feel otherwise.
And how he incorporates local history, at just the right moment, is done perfectly. It never feels jarring to go from reading about one of his neighbors, to reading about how the local fire department was formed. For me, sometimes reading about history can be a bit dull, but Perry makes it interesting, adding a touch of humor to lighten it up a bit.
Learning about first responders was another very interesting part to this book. I have never realized that they do so much. Besides being there while the crisis is happening, they also stick around afterwards to clean up the scene. And the fact that they are volunteers, making very little money, and still being on call pretty much 24/7, is amazing. They give so much to their community without asking for anything in return.
Although some of the scenes are graphic, Perry doesn’t write them that way for shock value, and it made me think even more highly of the people who do this, and all they have to deal with.
I highly, highly recommend this book. And if you have the time, encourage you to volunteer as a first responder.