So, there’s a page of literary jokes that got passed around my college classes in the before-time, in the long ago. I’m pretty sure they weren’t new then, and my college years are a decade past me. But the shtick was each author’s answer to why the chicken crossed the road, and Hemingway’s was “to die. In the rain.”
Tom Perotta writes like that Hemingway joke.
I love his books, but a compendium of his short stories may have been a poor choice on my part because I think that man is allergic to granting his characters any comfort. So instead of one story’s worth of humans undone by their moral failings, I got ten. Yay?
This is all a lot of complaining about well written, accomplished work; Perotta’s skill is finding a lot of sympathy for the adulterers, the neglectful spouses, the cocky teenagers, the sad sack parents. You don’t want these people to suffer. And, to his credit, Perotta doesn’t torture them, it’s just that every story seems to end on a note of quiet desperation, in the knowledge that something golden has been lost and the moment to seize it is gone forever. You don’t get to go back in time to value the wife you’ve ignored now that she’s with someone else, or take a chance on the woman you really love now that you have a family, or apply yourself as a student.
The book was compelling and a good read, but damn if I wasn’t excited to read the next one for being lighter.