Tom Perrotta Has Suburban Storytelling Down to a Science


   Long before The Leftovers was a disconcerting HBO series, it was the only passable book on the sparse shelves at the bookstore in the tiny town where I spend summers, which has since closed its doors. I was intrigued by the back jacket, which described a town in the wake of partial rapture of sorts; citizens, seemingly at random, began to vanish. There’s no foul play suspected, as those lucky enough to remain on earth watch the select few seemingly dissolve into thin air once they are selected.

What impressed me about the book was Perrotta’s ability to weave a feasible, yet somehow interesting, narrative of quotidian life in suburbia with a supernatural subplot. I wasn’t familiar with Perrotta prior to picking up the book, but as I dove deeper into the rest of his fiction, his knack for suburban storytelling became obvious.


   The next Perrotta book I read was Nine Inches, his short story collection, which was published in 2013 with a cover that has since been nixed for its suggestiveness [see image above] though I found it hilarious. I’m generally not particularly interested in short story collections, as their brevity makes it difficult for me to connect with the characters, but when you’re good, you’re good, and these stories had me laughing out loud. Normally, when I’m reading short stories I’ll skip a few, but in this case I savored every single one.

In need of my Perrotta fix just a week after finishing Nine Inches, I picked up The Abstinence Teacher, a story about the tensions between a recovering addict turned suburban soccer coach who belongs to a Christian cult, and his dealings with the Sex Ed teacher at his daughter’s school.


      The last Perrotta novel I read was Election, which most people know about because Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon were in the movie. Actually, I’m not even sure most people know Election is based on a book. But it was, and because the book is only 200 pages, it will take you just about the same amount of time to read it as it would to watch the movie; and trust me when I say the book is far better.


     For those unfamiliar with either version of the story, it follows high school students in New Jersey [for whatever reason, it’s Nebraska in the movie] during a student body election. Tracy, your typical teacher’s pet, is running unopposed, until two dark horses join the race and begin to shake things up. This one is probably the ideal introduction to Perrotta’s work. Get reading!

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