Nine Inches: Stories

UnknownNine Inches: Stories
Tom Perrotta
© 2013

I talked about fluff recently (here).  But, looking back, I realized that I only talked about female-authored fluff.  That was an oversight.

Make no bones about it: there is male-authored fluff, too.  There are four fluffernuts who spring to mind immediately.    

There are the two Brits:

  • Nick Hornby (About a Boy, How to Be Good, High Fidelity)
  • David Nicholls (A Question of Attraction, One Day)

And the two Americans:

  • Jonathan Tropper (The Book of Joe, This Is Where I Leave You, How to Talk to a Widower)
  • Tom Perrotta (Election, Little Children, The Leftovers)

These guys write the exact same kind of book: character-driven, fun stuff.  Their books are usually a little lighter and a little easier to digest (and, objectively, a little less . . . good) than your Chabon or your Franzen fare.  Their books are pretty funny, and you can breeze through one in a day or two.

Of the four authors, Tom Perrotta is probably my least favorite.  Perrotta’s stuff is not as funny as the two Brits’ or Tropper’s books.  Some of his books are really fun and enjoyable (like Election, on which this movie was based) and some are really sad and depressing (like Little Children, on which this movie was based).  But, for whatever reason, whenever I see that he has a new book out, I usually read it.  And I don’t hate it (but I don’t love it, either).

Perrotta is a big fan of including at least one really pathetic, sad-sack character in each of his books and stories.  Nine Inches (a collection of ten stories) is no different.  Sadness, loneliness, and regret are defining characteristics of the stories’ protagonists. Although they don’t end up happy and fulfilled by objective standards, there is usually (with a couple exceptions) a happy-ish ending.

Rating: 3.5/5 📏

Alone, each of these stories is a little sad and the characters are a little depressing.  But, when you read them all together, it’s a situation of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  The characters as a group seem more pathetic, the situations more cringe-inducing.  The stories are more palatable when read individually, so space them out.

Here are my ratings of each story:

  • Backrub”: An all-around good student manages not to get into college.  While his friends head off to Stanford and Harvard and Bowdoin and Pomona, he ends up delivering pizza.  A few weeks into his new gig, he gets pulled over for speeding.  This is the first time he sees Lt. Finnegan. . . but it won’t be the last. 3.5/5
  • Grade My Teacher”: A loser high-school teacher conducts a “routine self-google” and finds a post on grademyteacher.com that begins: “OMG my math teacher Vicki Wiggins is an INSANE B*#@&!”  The teacher figures out who wrote the post and decides to confront the student.  3.5/5
  • The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face”: A dad, who is a clueless a-hole, umps the Little League championship game.  When little Lori Chang, the star pitcher of the Town Pizza Ravens, hits a batter with an errant pitch, things begin to unravel.  4/5
  • Kiddie Pool”: Next-door neighbors who used to be great friends become enemies.  After one neighbor dies, the other decides to break into the dead guy’s garage to “borrow” a compressor to inflate his granddaughters’ kiddie pool.  Once he’s inside the garage, he makes an unpleasant discovery. 3/5
  • Nine Inches”: Nine inches is the length of space required between a boy and a girl during a slow song at the middle-school dance.  This is a sad story about love, missed opportunities, and regret.  4/5
  • Senior Season”: A high-school football player gets a concussion and is forced to retire right before his senior year.  3/5
  • One-Four-Five”: A cautionary tale—a douchy pediatrician cheats on his wife, gets kicked out of his house, and spends the rest of his days playing blues chord-progressions at a used-guitar shop. 3/5
  • The Chosen Girl”: A lonely empty-nester wants to help a coatless little girl who is in a cult called “The Chosen.”  3.5/5
  • The Test-Taker”: A smart high-school kid has a part-time job as an SAT cheat.  Normally, he takes the test for strangers in nearby towns, but, this time, he has to take the test for a kid who goes to his school. 4/5
  • The All-Night Party”: A PTA mom volunteers at her daughter’s high school’s all-night graduation party and connects with a cop who’s working the front door. 3.5/5

Who should read it: people who are feeling down and would benefit from a good, old-fashioned dose of schadenfreude.

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