Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review: "Nine Inches: Stories" by Tom Perrotta

I've been a big fan of Tom Perrotta's for some time now. While I love his use of language and his ear for dialogue, I particularly like the way he is able to make his books so compelling when they're not necessarily about a major catastrophe or turning point. Instead, they so accurately capture the everyday moments of everyday lives, and the moment when a character's decision takes them off the rails a bit.

All of the stories in Perrotta's new collection, Nine Inches, do a terrific job of capturing those moments. The narrators of these stories are all dealing with something—divorce, the dissolution of relationships, injury, dissatisfaction with their life at the current time. These stories feature familiar characters in situations you can understand or perhaps even identify with, which is what makes them compelling and enjoyable.

In The Smile on Happy Chang's Face, a man battling unhappiness and petty inferiority brings his issues along with him when umpiring a Little League championship game. Senior Season tells the story of an injured high school football player unable to cope with his life now that he is no longer playing, and his elderly neighbor provides the cause of some frustration. The narrator of Backrub is stuck in a dead-end job while all of his friends went off to college, and has some interesting encounters with a local policeman. In Kiddie Pool, an elderly man makes some interesting late-night discoveries about his estranged best friend and next-door neighbor. And in the title story (named for the distance that slow-dancing middle school students needed to keep between them), a teacher wonders how his life might have been different if he pursued his true feelings.

I really enjoyed nearly all of the 10 stories in this collection (of course, some more than others), and felt like probably all of them could be expanded into full-length novels. With many of the stories, I wanted to know what happened next with the characters after the stories ended. That, to me, is always the mark of truly well-written and interesting stories.

If you're a fan of Tom Perrotta's, definitely pick up this collection, as you'll enjoy the familiarity and complexity of his storytelling. And if you've never read any of Perrotta's novels, but are simply a fan of short stories or good writing, pick up this collection, too, because you'll definitely find a lot of the latter.

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