Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: "Bad Haircut" by Tom Perrotta

I don’t think that I will find a more surprisingly rewarding reading experience this year that tops Tom Perrotta’s first short story collection Bad Haircut. I have gone to great lengths to praise Perrotta, an underrated auteur of white, middle class suburban boredom and disappointment. From his highly controversial Little Children, the tumultuous original love story at heart of The Abstinence Teacher, the extreme success of The Leftovers and his oddly uplifting collection, Nine Inches, he plumbs the depths of everyday life, and comes back with golden nuggets and rotten cores, sometime indistinguishable. But all the books I have listed are from his later period, where he dealt with bigger ideas, became less solipsistic with his stories and broaden his range as a storyteller. I didn’t dislike his earlier books; Joe College was amusing, and Election, while read almost five years ago, still stick with as much as the movie does. I came into Bad Haircut with low expectations and came out floored as usual. It might not be as good as Nine Inches, but man, is this a really great, underrated collection. It deals with the same themes and emotions as his other book, such as the uncertain future of your average high school kid, the first time you learn adults are not always as smart as they say they are, and the heartbreak and despair we feel when we are betrayed being a catalyst that helps us grow up. These stories are rich in detail, and everyone can find at least one thing from their own lives in these stories. Like all great collections, some stories are better than others, but none of them are bad at all. The opening story, with the unfortunate title “The Wiener Man”, a funny story that is actually quite eye-opening, concerning a boy whose mom takes his boy scout troop to the local strip mall to meet a hot dog mascot, who turns out to be played by one of the mom’s old flames. On the surface, it is about how strong some ties can be, but as I looked deeper, it had a more bittersweet lesson about how hard work sometimes doesn’t pay off, and being a good person doesn’t guarantee success in life.  “Snowman” is perhaps the weirdest story that Perrotta has written, going to weird dark places you’d never expect from the story or even him, from an irrational bully bloodying the narrators nose to one lost soul of a boy taking the narrator on a homicidal hunt for said bully ending in a weirdly sad way. I’m not sure what the lesson is in this story, but I loved it. “You Start to Live” is another story that deals with disappointment, this time in young love taking place during prom night, ending with one boy who learns that the definition of love is much more than sexual conquest. And the final story, “Wild Kingdom” about the funeral of one boy’s neighbor who once showed him graphic pornography, delves deeply into the unnoticed awkwardness we all feel during somber moments. With the exception of the same boy likely being the center of all the stories (makes it feel a wee bit self-indulgent), I have no complaints about this book. It is great intro into Perrotta’s brilliant work, and crafts grand feelings out of the little moments that make up our lives.

Rating: 5/5

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