Originally published September 2013
The short story medium isn’t my typical go-to for a good read.
I drift toward books where I know I’m going to enjoy a long relationship with the characters. Yet, Tom Perrotta is a master at character definition, and I love his work—so it took me about a nano-second to pick up his latest collection of work, “Nine Inches.” 10 short stories inside one book jacket, all worthy of their own.
Think you are unfamiliar with Perrotta’s earlier work? You’re probably not—his book “Little Children” became a Kate Winslet vehicle and brought Jackie Earle Haley an Oscar nod. And his last novel, “The Leftovers,” has been greenlit for an HBO series adaptation. (Note to self: Set DVR now.) “Election” made Reese Witherspoon a star, and why “The Abstinence Teacher” hasn’t hit the silver screen is a head scratcher.
And if you are familiar with Perrotta, then you won’t be surprised—”Nine Inches” is another deep dive into the function and dysfunction of relationships—those between lovers, parents and children, teachers and students, neighbors and enemies, and yep, those we have with ourselves.
“Nine Inches” is a candy dish filled with a variety of explorative looks at modern society—and as each melts in the mouth, you’re left wondering … what would have the chapter before said? The following verse? Each story involves a scenario in which many of us (or maybe just me, who knows) gets to witness what happens when the thing we wish we would have said or did actually goes down—so.much.fun.
I became so entangled in each story’s main character so quickly, I wanted to know more:
Does “The Backrub””s Donald go to jail? Does Lt. Finnegan come to the trial?
Does “Happy Chang’s” Carl ever find some kind of inner peace? Does his gay son ever forgive him?
Does “The Kiddie Pool”‘s Gus get crushed by the tree branch? And does Martha cop to the affair?
What happens the next day at school between “Nine Inches”‘s Ethan and Charlotte?
Does Dr. Sims become the next Rick Springfield?
Readers, be forewarned—much like Perrotta’s previous work, these stories aren’t about happy endings. These are about angst, longing, misguided desires, and the quiet desperation that results from knowing you’ve made a critical mistake from which there is no turning back. The stories are voyeuristic and sad, but deeply meaningful. And, as always, impeccably written. You just can’t go wrong with a Perrotta read.