Last year when I reviewed Tom Perrotta’s NINE INCHES, I couldn’t quite place why he’s one of my favorite authors. I think I get it now. His characters are beautiful in their flaws. None of them are perfect; all of them are unique. They are beautiful—just like each one of us.
Other reviewers credit Perrotta as a satirist, a humorist, but it’s more than that. When I first saw the movie LITTLE CHILDREN, I was instantly drawn into the opening playground scene: the “perfect” mothers gathering at the playground with their perfect children; the odd mother out, spilling her diaper bag while her daughter throws a tantrum. Awkward. Painful. Real.
What the movie may have not pointed out (I forget by now) that the novel eventually exposes is that no one—not even the well-manicured, well-read, well-funded mother—is perfect. There’s always something there. Perrotta crafts the perfectly flawed characters, makes them all totally different, and then throws them together.
Here: the gorgeous father who can’t pass the bar exam; the cop no longer on the force due to shooting a kid; the mother who doesn’t fit in, whose husband has strange habits; the sex offender seeking normalcy. Each character is driven by their personal agendas, their desire to be apart, and each held back by that one, realistic thing that could haunt any one of us.
Perrotta’s neighborhood sure feels like my own. Chances are, it feels like yours, too.