Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Perotta, Leitch

I’ve been trying to read more stuff that’s close to what I want to do for this next book of mine. I keep saying that this book will be the heavy metal Indiana version of John’s Small Town Punk (which was Florida and punk), but I wanted to find some other books that were similar in texture and purpose to inspire me. At some point, I want to make a total list of all of these titles, with reviews or reasons why they fit the bill, but I’ll get to that later.

I wanted to ramble a bit about Tom Perotta a bit, since I read a couple of his books recently. I never heard of him, but after I read John McNally’s The Book of Ralph, Amazon told me I might like him, and since the descriptions sounded interesting, I went ahead and ordered two of his books: The Wishbones, and Joe College. I later found out that he’s most famous for writing the book Election, which was turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, but since I never saw the movie, I never knew about this, and I’m sure everyone else does and I’m just a dumbass. Anyway…

I read both of the books quickly, and had the same reaction to both. (Oh, if you haven’t, I’m going to discuss spoilers, so if you’re the kind of person who gets all freaked out about that, stop reading. I probably don’t need to say that since the only people I know who get freaked out about spoilers don’t read books.) Anyway, here’s the deal: I really liked Perotta’s non-main characters, and I really loved the way he could paint a scene. He did such a great job of laying down the detail of a scene in a way that might make you chuckle because of the small details, and he does it in an extremely efficient manner. His writing flows well, reads fast, and doesn’t contain extras, but there’s still a lot of flair there to make you enjoy everything. In that sense, he’s a lot like McNally; his descriptions of crap Chicago suburbs in the 70s really worked, and I liked that.

What I didn’t like about both of the Perrotta books that I read were that he basically made the main character look like a total moral fuckup, and then had these huge act2/act3 tragedies that he later forgets all about and leaves unsolved. In The Wishbones, the lead character is this past-prime musician in a wedding band, working as a courier and living in Jersey, who one day sees a geezer at a wedding show die and decides he needs to marry his girlfriend of 15 years and move them both out of their respective parents’ houses. But he later has the dude hook up with this Lower East Side/Park Slope hipster poet chick. You’d think this would lead to the fiancee finding out and tragedy ensuing, but that’s not what happens. He uses the setup to tweak out the main character’s emotions a bit, then pretty much leaves her aside to continue on with the main plot. The main character forgets all about it, everyone’s well, a nice fall wedding, end of book.

Now, Tom Perrotta isn’t a slouch when it comes to plot. He’s very meticulous and playing the rules of the Iowa Writers Workshop, carefully weaving the main and secondary threads and giving them a bump in the right places and all of that. But after reading both books, I had such a strong “what the fuck happened to…” feeling, that I didn’t really feel satisfied about it. And yeah, maybe he did that intentionally, to introduce some tension, or make things believable. But I still kept thinking “what happened to that secondary plot?” and it threw me.

I also started reading two Will Leitch books, again based on Amazon, and I didn’t really like either one. He has Life as a Loser, which I already mentioned, and it’s more of a lower-quality Chuck Klosterman imitation, but it doesn’t totally pull through. It was like reading Chuck’s rough drafts, and I gave up halfway through the book. I started Catch, and I don’t know. I don’t have an agent, or a bunch of fans online, but I think I could do better. I’m not trying to pick a fight; I’m just saying, his writing’s a bit wooden. Maybe halfway through the book, it picks up steam, but I don’t know if I’ll make it.

In other news, I think my knees are almost better. I say knees plural because the left one got a little torqued out from limping around on a cane and in a brace and overcompensating. Today was my first real day with no brace, and they don’t feel good now, but I did make it with no real problems. And in an effort to be more human, I actually bought a pair of dress shoes today, since when we go somewhere formal, I usually have to fake it with a pair of tennis shoes or something. I went to Kenneth Cole to invest in something that looked good and didn’t make me feel ready for amputation in 15 minutes, and I ended up spending about twice as much as the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought. But they’re nice. I hope I don’t accidentally shred them to pieces on a fragmenting New York curbside or something.

Oh, I fixed a bunch of random weird stuff with the site’s RSS feed, but I won’t go into it right now.