An Evening with Tom Perrotta

This week I had the privilege of hearing novelist Tom Perrotta read at SPACE Gallery as part of the Telling Room‘s reading series.  He read a selection from his novel Little Children.  The writing was impressive, the characters described precisely, with the kind of small details and accurate observations that bring prose to vivid life.  The excerpt was written largely from the point of view of a mother with a young child and the voice was completely authentic.  Ah, the magic of writing.

I can’t wait to read The Leftovers, his latest novel about a seemingly random rapture-style mass disappearance of people . During the Q & A afterwards, Perrotta had intriguing tales of converting fiction to film.  He also said one way to approach the challenge of writing about an unlikeable character is to see and write about him or her through another character’s eyes.  And isn’t this at the heart of great writing — the need to depict complex personalities, situations and environments with mastery?  Fine writing embodies genuine truths that can’t be faked. The process is both tedious and exhilarating.

In commenting about his stint as a series editor of the 2012 Best American Stories he talked about the evolution of modern fiction, from the tomes of Pynchon to the sparer styles of Richard Ford, Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie, followed by the subsequent return of denser work best embodied by David Foster Wallace.  He cited Alice Munro as an example of a successful short story author who appeals to him for her plain style and her looseness of story, as well as her ability to bring novelistic techniques to a shorter form.   It was a most delightful evening.

Afterwards I enjoyed checking out his website, which features a colorful chronology of his career, which included an “Easy Rider” phase and jobs collecting garbage and working as a clerk at a storage company.  His novel Election, which was subsequently made into a successful movie, took six years to get published.  This gives me hope.