This is Perrotta’s first venture back into the world of short stories since his debut, the superlative Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies. It’s amazing how easily he slips back into the form after a long absence, not to mention how well he utilizes every page–whether it’s a short story or a full novel. Characters go through an entire arc in several pages. They’re standard-issue screw-ups, which is Perrotta’s specialty, but it’s impossible not to feel for them and root for them, even as they make some awful mistakes. In a truly remarkable feat, these characters frequently come to a realization, accept what they have done, begin to rationalize their behavior, and retreat back into denial all on the same page, and it feels completely organic.
My favorite story is probably “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face,” in which a father completely unravels at a Little League game. The final two pages of that story were the emotional high point of the collection in my opinion. Another mark in Perrotta’s favor is that while each story essentially centers on someone screwing up, the characters themselves are different enough that you feel like you’re in different worlds each time (it’s a pet peeve of mine when you read a short story collection that feels like the same story over and over).
I am an unabashed fan of Tom Perrotta, as you could probably tell by now. The Wishbones is the only one of his books that I have yet to read, and there’s a copy sitting on my bookshelf crying out for some attention. So you can probably imagine that I gobbled this up as soon as it came out. For Perrotta die-hards like myself, it’s a touch same-same, but his clever observations, witty storytelling, and palpable affection for his characters and all their imperfections continue to save him from becoming rote. To be perfectly honest, though, as much as I think this is a good collection, if I were ranking Perrotta’s books this wouldn’t crack the top five. He’s still doing better than a lot of other authors out there, but in my opinion he has done better.
PS In accordance with my mission statement, it is my duty to report that I received a free ARC of this book when I was still working at Macmillan (Perrotta’s publisher, St. Martin’s, is a division of Macmillan).