Nine Inches: Stories by Tom Perrotta

  • Title: Nine Inches: Stories
  • Author: Tom Perrotta
  • # of Pages: 246

Nine Inches, Tom Perrotta’s first true collection, features ten stories—some sharp and funny, some mordant and surprising, and a few intense and disturbing. Whether he’s dropping into the lives of two teachers—and their love lost and found—in “Nine Inches”, documenting the unraveling of a dad at a Little League game in “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face”, or gently marking the points of connection between an old woman and a benched high school football player in “Senior Season”, Perrotta writes with a sure sense of his characters and their secret longings.

Nine Inches contains an elegant collection of short fiction: stories that are as assured in their depictions of characters young and old, established and unsure, as any written today.

It takes a different set of skills to write short stories, to be able to write convincing, believable characters in so few words. It’s like a very concentrated drink, it needs to be strong and exact because you’re only going to get one sip to really understand the flavor.

There is no doubt that Tom Perrotta possesses that set of skills. Story after story, his characters come alive for their fifteen minutes of fame. Perrotta manages to create that feeling that we’re just getting a glimpse, that there’s a whole life before and after that will continue on without us. It’s the way short stories should be. Sound, solid, able to carry that weight of their existence, past, present and future.

And the heroes of these stories, they’re actually not really heroes at all. They are weak, unhappy, either dealing with the consequences of regrettable behavior or on the way to giving themselves something to regret. A father who hits his son in a moment of  disappointment, a teacher who spends her time reading what students write about her online, men who cheat on their wives. Some of them are trying to figure out what went wrong, others are looking for a way back to the people they’ve lost. They’re just people, and with his uncomplicated, yet precise way with words, Perrotta makes us want to reach out and give them a hand.

I read Perrotta’s “Little Children” a while back, and I remember being struck by how straightforward, I guess would be the word, it was; without fancy, over the top attempts to write “true literature”, without metaphors and intricate descriptions that go zooming over your head. It was just a good story with good characters and good writing – simple as that. There’s nothing wrong with being fancy, but sometimes, in between those wines you’ve never heard of and cheese whose name you can’t pronounce, all you need is a good old grilled cheese sandwich and a Coke.

However, in the case of Nine Inches, some of the stories are better than others. While leaving a story unresolved is not necessarily a bad thing, it needs to be done in a certain way. Not all of them manage to pull it off. In some cases, we’re left with the after-taste of… pointlessness. There are a few places where the quality of the writing overpowers the actual story-line, which creates an awkward situation. It feels as if Perrotta had some great ideas he couldn’t figure out how to wrap up, which creates a bit of a mess and takes the entire collection down a few notches.

I think it would be fair to say that despite the weak points, Nine Inches still manages to pull it off, mostly due to Perrotta’s writing abilities and a few gems that make up for the rest. For fans of the short story genre it’s a nice, quick read, with a cup of hot chocolate in bed. For those who read in order to write, much can be learned from Perrotta’s style, his easygoing way with words and, most of all, his ability to put on a full-fledged show for every one of his tales, however long they may be.




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