Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Christianity and Tom Perrotta

ONE of my favorite-ever author meetings was a lunch interview with Tom Perrotta around the time of The Abstinence Teacher. (I was in New England and swung to the fringe of Boston to meet him.) The novel's film adaptation was already rolling despite the fact that the book hadn't come out yet -- credit the success of Little Children for that one.

The Abstinence Teacher, like his new one, The Leftovers, is partially about latter day Christians and the culture of the religiously devout, not often examined in literary fiction.

Perrotta and I spoke about a lot of things -- rock music, fatherhood, literary craft -- and especially his upbringing as a not-terribly-devout Catholic in New Jersey in the '60s and '70s, in the wake of Vatican II and other softenings of the church.

With The Abstinence Teacher, I was struck by the way Perrotta balanced satire with an unexpected empathy. Here's what I wrote at the time:

More than anything, though, his work is defined not by a type of character or a setting in the suburbs but by a tone of voice: cutting and observed with a kind of oracular detachment, but with forgiveness and respect for old-fashioned decency. It's also a tone, rooted in realism, that doesn't draw attention to itself.
In a funny way, the premises and the novels themselves seem to be rendered by a different writer.
"The setups to my stories are often more satirical," he said, "but the execution isn't. In the course of writing, my sense of the characters deepens, and the story becomes something different from what I intended."
HERE is that interview and profile. Looking forward to his new one.

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