There goes the neigh­bour­hood

Ex­cel­lent short sto­ries go be­hind the white picket fence of suburbia

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

han­dle his son’s in­ter­est in mu­si­cal the­atre and sees “some­thing un­de­ni­ably sex­ual” about the pres­ence of Lit­tle League pitcher Lori on the base­ball field.

Re­pul­sive as Jack is, Per­rotta deftly turns the ta­bles so that by the end, Jack is ex­posed as merely a hor­ri­bly con­fused, de­feated man, un­able to apol­o­gize, still try­ing to ex­plain:

“That’s what I wanted my ex-wife and chil­dren to see,” he says, “a man who had the courage to aad­mit that he’d failed, who un­der­stood that there were times when you had no rright to judge.”

The provoca­tively named tti­tle story may give you pause but it is not what you think. In it, chap­er­ones at a mid­dle school dance are tasked with en­sur­ing that sstu­dents keep at least nine in­inches be­tween each other wwhen danc­ing.

The main char­ac­ter ends uup hav­ing to sep­a­rate two love-struck stu­dents, which leaves him feel­ing like a fool.

It calls to mind a story by John Updike in which three teenage hot­ties walk into the lo­cal gro­cery store wear­ing only bathing suits. When the man­ager asks them to leave, the bag boy nar­rat­ing the story is qui­etly out­raged and quits on the spot.

Through­out these sto­ries, Per­rotta subtly draws our at­ten­tion to the cookie-cut­ter na­ture of suburbia. The ever-present Starbucks cof­fee out­let fea­tures in sev­eral sto­ries, just as you’re likely to find one in al­most ev­ery real-life neigh­bour­hood.

Per­rotta even re­cy­cles the names of char­ac­ters — two Aman­das, a few Caseys — and places, both real and fic­tional — fur­ther blur­ring the line be­tween re­al­ity and fic­tion and per­haps hint­ing that we may share other, less in­nocu­ous traits with these char­ac­ters.

In Kid­die Pool, Gus comes to the sad re­al­iza­tion that “he could have spent so much time on earth... and un­der­stood al­most noth­ing about his own life and the lives of the peo­ple he was clos­est to.”

Maybe that’s all Per­rotta is say­ing: that we aren’t so pre­dictable, af­ter all.


Tom Per­rotta is known for cre­at­ing morally am­bigu­ous char­ac­ters.

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