Truck: A Love Story

truck.JPGTruck: A Love Story contains, as author Michael Perry might put it, a whole lotta people watchin’. Perry is to Wisconsin what Garrison Keillor is to Minnesota—an erudite, self-effacing, and entertaining local boy whose small-town vignettes remind you that people are the same everywhere. This book (Perry is also the author of Population: 485) is his memoir of the year in which he decides, in the fading light of his 30s, to get serious about a few things, namely fixing up a favorite old pickup that is slowly sinking into his asphalt driveway, and tricking the squirrels into letting him grow a successful garden. It’s just icing on the cake that between the rust removing and the manure shoveling, he accidentally falls in love.

This former farm boy and volunteer fire fighter with a nursing degree is funny! Rather than my description, listen to some of the random insights I had to highlight as I read:

On the future of agriculture:

The [truck] project would give me license to make numerous trips to Farm and Fleet, where the livestock section feels sadly evermore the equivalent of a hobby section, but the sign over the drinking fountain that says Please No Tobacco Juice remains, and consequently, so does hope. (3)

On the theology of thriftiness:

Until I came across [a particular cookbook]…I was in possession of exactly thirteen cookbooks. A comparatively modest collection, but I have my reasons, the main one being, nothing snarls me up like options. I blame this on my genes and my waste-not, want-not penny-pinching proto-Calvinist roots, which imbued me with the feeling that to be in possession of a useful thing and not use it is to allow the devil to wedge his big toe in the screen door of your soul. (24)

On snow day paradoxes:

We lean to our shovels with stoic determination, secretly delighted that in the age of heated seats and convenience-store cappuccino we can still pretend to be pioneers as we strike out for milk and eggs up the block at the Gas-N-Go. …We tromp around in our big boots, imagining we survive on pemmican and hardtack. The illusion doesn’t last. The plows are out, and by midmorning the four-lane is whooshing with people who dared not risk the deadly trip to work or school, but now, given a day off, will drive forty miles to the mall. (33)

On megachurches:

At what point does the genuine article become frothy? I’m pretty much a live-and-let-live agnostic, but whenever I see churches luring people to their services with puppets and guitars, or these mall churches where they park your car and serve you lattes and let you watch the pastor on your choice of five JumboTrons, I want to say No, No, No. Church should not be easy. Church should be hard. I have read that in his last days, Jesus Christ fell on his face and sweated blood. The least you can do is sit on a hard pew and squirm some. (44)

On the state of country music:

It is silly to say bad things about popular music, but for the record, Johnny Paycheck is to Kenny Chesney as corn whiskey is to wine coolers. This new stuff suffers from overgrooming. …One sometimes fears the lyrics of the latest busted-heart song were transposed from a marriage encounter handbook. It isn’t that today’s superstars aren’t talented and hardworking. It’s just that their way of doing things has passed me by. I look at the pretty cowboy… and think, It is one thing to polish your craft, it is quite another to wax your abs. (53)

On the multiple applications of shop talk:

He is standing beside the right rear fender… “I want to see what it’s like under there,” he says, patting the fender. “We’re gonna hafta puller.” Gonna hafta puller is one of my favorite shop phrases. It applies in any circumstance where any mechanical object—the fuel pump, a bad spark plug, or the entire dang engine—requires removal. You say it with a tone of can-do resignation, and it helps if you take a big breath first and then speak like you’re hiking your pants or lifting something heavy…I’ll stand there sometimes with the hood up, looking into the bowels of the machine, and I’ll just suck it up and say, “Yee-up, looks like I’m gonna hafta puller.” And then I’ll reach in and draw that empty inkjet cartridge right on outta there. (77)

On big city and small town snobbery:

Before I depart New York, my editor takes me to lunch at the Monkey Bar. I become uncomfortable with the stares of the men in the four-figure suits, to say nothing of their companions: women apparently obtained on lease from some photo shoot intended to advertise a perfume…. “Don’t worry,” my editor said to me sitting there in my Kmart socks and overworn T-shirt. “You’ve got it backwards. They’re all trying to figure out just Who You Are that you got in here dressed like that. Act like you’re Bruce Springsteen’s favorite roadie.” Sometimes these big-city people can be down home in ways that shame all your burnished small-town fables. (143)

On a more serious note, I found it interesting to learn of his fundamentalist Christian upbringing. Like many growing up in that culture, he rejected it in adulthood. One of the reasons this caught my attention was because at the same time I was reading a poet who had a similar childhood experience, rejected it in college, and then returned to a modified version later in his career. These stories always intrigue me since I, too, have moved away from fundamentalism, though I have not found it necessary to toss out the proverbial baby and remain within what I see as a more biblical Christian worldview. The nature of legalism as a way of life makes it, to me, a surprising source for so many creative people, and even those who lose their faith are somehow an encouragement to me as a writer. I suppose it is the idea that God gifts and uses us despite our wrongheadedness—whether that is the suppressing of creativity by means of legalism or the agnostic dismissing of his presence in our everyday blessings.

At any rate, I found Truck delightfully off-kilter and remarkably sane. Find out more about Perry at

14. September 2007 by Mindy
Categories: Reviews | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Really enjoyed browsing your site. This book sounds like a good read!

  2. Thanks, Jane! I’m glad you stopped by.