There goes the neighbourhood
Excellent short stories go behind the white picket fence of suburbia
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.