on October 14, 2000
The stories in Tom Perrotta's "Bad Haircut" are deceptively simple. The subject matter of these stories is not exactly what you would consider earth-shatteringly original. Yet what makes these stories work so incredibly well are exactly those facts. I was extremely impressed at how well Perrotta was able to remember the mindset of the teenage years. He hits on so many real truths about teenagers: they way teens tend to overdramatize small events, the way otherwise nice teenagers can behave poorly due to peer pressure, the disappointment of early sexual experiences, the way early childhood dreams tend to creep into a more mundane reality, loneliness, and the realization that adults are not flawless. There were so many times in reading this book where I would be simply amazed at how right-on Perrotta was in describing an experience I went through, or a feeling I had back not all that long ago when I was a teenager myself. Because when people get older there is a tendency to laugh at the stupid things they did or thought when they were younger, sometimes in writing about teens, writers forget one of the key elements of adolescence, which is the fact that the things you laugh at taking seriously when you get older, were things that seemed legitimately important when you were younger. Because of this, oftentimes in books, TV shows, or movies about teens there is a tendency to get too overly nostalgic about the teen years and forget how during that time of your life, sometimes just getting through another day seems like a struggle. Or alternatively, it seems too many writers think that the day-to-day drama that teens create in the course of their daily lives isn't "dramatic" enough to be interesting, so instead the teenagers in many books, TV shows, or movies go through a series of contrived dramas where they act like grown-ups in kids bodies. Perrotta is able to avoid both of these pratfalls by portraying the teens years for pretty much what they are - a process of slowly growing up, experiencing new things, and coming to view the world in more realistic terms than one may have in childhood.
on December 26, 2001
Tom Perotta has the gift of a great writer. Honesty and the ability to convey not his wishes of the world he/we grew up in but rather the stark reality of it all. We can laugh at it, we can cry about it, but "it" is all there. Comparisons are likely to both haunt and glorify Mr. Perotta - ie Roth, Salinger, Fitzgerald and even Springsteen but he writes in his own straight foward manner. He literally drives home a point in its wonderful and innocent simplicity and allows the reader to take it where he/she will. Tom Perotta is a wonderful writer and story teller we are lucky to have. READ his work. You will be happy you did.
For a Perrotta devotee such as myself, Bad Haircut comes as something of a surprise. It lacks Perrotta's signature style, the acerbic wit and satirical tone that have defined his spectacular novels Election,Little Children: A Novel, and The Abstinence Teacher. It's also a difficult book to classify - too linear and structured overall to adequately call a short story collection, but too broken up into pieces to call a novel. I suppose with this, his first published work, Perrotta was still finding his footing as an author, but it is a tribute to his talent that even while exploring the range of his voice the finished product still works, and very well at that.
As I said, "Bad Haircut" isn't exactly a short story collection but isn't quite a novel. Think of it as slices from the life of a boy named Buddy, who came of age in the turbulent, disco-studded seventies. Each story is a chapter in the stages of his junior high and high school years, with book-ends from 1969 and 1980 to put a frame on the decade. We first meet Buddy as a young Boy Scout innocently star-struck when he meets the Wonderful Wiener Man, who tours the country in a hot dog costume and turns out to have a past connection to Buddy's mother (a first glimpse at the complex blend of humor and drama that imbues Perrotta's current fiction). Over the course of "Bad Haircut" Buddy loses that innocence as he makes all of the mistakes and realizations that typify the American adolescence as a segue into adulthood. In the final installment Buddy attends a funeral after finishing his first year of college, a funeral that will unexpectedly cause him to revisit the innocence of that Boy Scout we first met him as.
It would be remiss of me to say that "Bad Haircut" is more serious than Perrotta's other works, since they all pack weighty themes beneath their farcical exteriors, but it does feel that way thanks to a poetic quality that he seems to have forsaken in those later novels. At first glance "Bad Haircut" seems superficial, but Perrotta's already remarkably deft pen only makes it appear that way. Each story packs a mean punch, and the fact that they flow so easily belies the poetic - and painstaking - structure that they follow. They speak volumes about American life, not just in the seventies, but beyond. Barring the absence of cell phones and the internet, "Bad Haircut" could just as easily take place in today's world.
If I have a complaint it's that even though the stories all follow the same character, each one feels a little too distinct. Buddy seems to have a different set of friends in each story, even though they seem to take place no more than a year apart (in a few instances only a few weeks have passed). And while we get to know the people who populate Buddy's world fairly well, Buddy himself remains something of a mystery. It would almost be possible to believe that each story is about a different teenager who just happens to reside in the same geographic location as the one in the previous story. But that's really a minor complaint, and doesn't impact the quality of the stories very much in the end.
The stories in "Bad Haircut" remind me of another spectacular short story writer, Tobias Wolff - and that is a comparison I never thought I would make. I love, love, love the Perrotta with the wicked sense of humor that I have gotten to know so well, but I would actually love to see him revisit his roots and do something like this again. Maybe someday he will.
PS In addition to the linked Perrotta novels above, I would also recommend checking out the aforementioned Tobias Wolff's phenomenal Back in the World: Stories. And the film adaptation of Little Children is top notch (as well it should be -- Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay).
on April 6, 2007
Yes, you'll enjoy BAD HAIRCUT in a big way if you grew up in that strange decade we call the 70s, but you can enjoy it for many other reasons as well. If you enjoy short stories, this collection with a common protagonist, the autobiographical Buddy, is sure to whet your appetite for that most concise of genres. If you are a Tom Perrotta fan, you'll be pleased and surprised, as this book offers both the Perrotta hero you've become accustomed to in his novels (young-ish, male, funny) AND it offers the author at his most disciplined as a stylist. The stories contain little "fat," in other words, and thematically tackle all the major sources of boyhood angst from grade school days to college.
The collection starts with "Weiner Man," the tale of Buddy in the cub scouts, a man dressed in an oversized weiner outfit, and his mother who knew Weiner Man from high school. Sweet and strange, it's the perfect gateway into this frank collection. It is followed by stories involving dating, fighting, family, school, drugs, and alcohol. Just your typical, red-blooded New Jersey suburban upbringing, is all. But what a ride.
I feel this book is overlooked for two reasons -- it's an "early" work by an author who later became famous and it's a short story collection, which will always play second fiddle to the novel. Don't let it scare you away, however. Although anyone can enjoy this work, it's almost a sure bet if you're a male boomer out of the 'burbs. So go ahead. Get a haircut. Even if it's bad, they always grow out...
Tom Perrotta made his debut as an author with "Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies". It was a debut that would introduce Perrotta's tried-but-true model for his future main characters, the man-child, but also one that presaged Perrotta's place as a writer of funny yet thoughtful, evocative prose. A bit uneven at times, "Bad Haircut" is an entirely readable book, filled with nostalgia and familiar scenes that could have come out of anyone's childhood and teenage years.
All ten of the stories in "Bad Haricut" focus around the character of Buddy, as he grows from a nine-year-old Boy Scout into a disenchanted college student. Readers follow Buddy as he comes to terms with serious topics like death and love, and also while he deals with the unfair moments of being an adolescent. Some of the standout stories are "Thirteen", in which a friend of Buddy's asks him to write love letters to his girlfriend and unwittingly gets both of them into trouble, and "You Start to Live" in which Buddy learns how to drive a car but also learns a thing or two about girls and broken hearts. All of the stories are unflinchingly honest and readers get to know every thought in Buddy's head, both the goofy and the profound.
It is easy to see why reviewers likenend Perrotta to Raymond Carver, for many of the stories seem to end with no resolution, which can leave the reader yearning for more. Yet Perrotta does not demonstrate the same clipped and effortless ability to say the least when it matters most. "Bad Haircut" manages to perfectly capture its time period, the seventies, while also managing to transcend that decade and resonate with the generations that have come after it. That is no easy feat for an author to achieve, but Perrotta did it with a little bit of humor and simple, honest storytelling.
on September 12, 2006
The book Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies by Tom Perrotta is a coming of age story about Buddy, a boy who grew up in the times of sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll, and the book brings up all of it. Along with many variables that come with the seventies, there were many obstacles that melded his teenage years that are timeless. He grows from a cub scout in 1969 who liked to collect the autographs of such celebrities as Mr. Clean, Cap'n Crunch, and the Weiner Man, to a freshman in college who was one of the pall-bearers for someone who was Buddy's neighbor since he was nine. On the way Buddy deals with bullies, interesting family friends, a band, marijuana, and girls. As a teenager it is interesting to see how the era of my parent's teenage years are similar and different than my own.
Many of the other reviews have declared that the stories are timeless, which is one of the most powerful aspects of the book, and I would have to agree. I am a child of the `90's/2000s (Buddy in `70's is about equivalent to me in the 2000s) and many of the stories strike home, or at least near it. Kevin, Buddy's best friend in '74, a rabble-rousing, mischievous boy reminds me of many of my friends who enjoy causing trouble in ways that are hysterical and not too damaging. Marijuana has survived as a drug that crosses many generations, no matter how hard the government tries, and while I myself do not imbibe in it, I know people who do. While it may not be at the level it was in the `60's and `70's, the fact that it is still quite present today says something. Another surprising connection is the music of the period. It is interesting that many people in our generation listen to many of the same bands as our parents did when they were our age; where as our parents were much less interested in the music of their parents.
Many of the stories are more classified to the seventies or at least a different neighborhood than what I live in. Because there were fewer worries of "bad people" wandering the streets in the seventies, the characters have more freedom to hang out around the neighborhood whenever. The stories such as "Snowman" and "Race Riot" have the possibility of happening in this day and age, but are less likely. This is because the 70's generation is now our parents' generation, and they worry more, possibly because of their experiences as children and teenagers. All in all, Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies is a very interesting book that you will not want to put down, as long as you are, have been, or plan to be a teenager.
on May 21, 2006
Mercifully, "That 70s Show" aired its finale just the other night, several years after jumping the shark. I cringe to think that, for some young people, that show is the main source of their knowledge of the 70s. Whether you remember the decade or not, if you'd like to get a much better sense of what life was like for young people in the 70s, pick up this marvelous collection of short stories. There are ten short stories in all, arranged chronologically as the central character Buddy ages through childhood and adolescence, and you can savor them separately, individually, or as a united story cycle. Once I started, I discovered I couldn't put the book down.
Part of what makes Perrotta such a gifted writer is his selection of detail. He doesn't overwhelm you with it, but he chooses precisely in conveying meaningful nuances of tone, mood, and tension. He also uses understatement effectively, and the dialogues are realistic.
I also admire the author's sensitivity to the perspectives of different characters--not just Buddy, who is presumably autobiographically based to a great extent, but also the wide range of Darwin, New Jersey citizens with whom Buddy interacts--the stories abound in wit, wisdom, and lessons only learned through experience; this inevitably strikes a chord with readers who will undoubtedly have endured, at one point or another, the reform school psycho bully, the dream date who suddenly dumps you, the mom who smells the liquor on your breath, the lonely old neighbor who craves some attention.
If you have a friend or loved one born between 1956 and 1966, and that person enjoys coming of age stories, this book would make an excellent gift. The author is better known for his novel Election (made into the film starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick) and , more recently, Little Children. Those are good books too--but don't overlook these earlier gems, first published a little over ten years ago but as relevant and timely today.
on October 25, 2000
Having grown up in a working class metropolitan NY town and having experienced adolescence in the '70s for me this book read like a documentary of my home town during that era. Perrotta's unvarnished depiction of the issues, priorities, and social stratification (working class, lower professional class, black, white) was strikingly familiar. The author accurately and convincingly speaks with the voice of such people in depicting their pedestrian lives. Perotta's characters are normal, sympathetic, and unremarkable. He effectively represents the wisdom acquired from day to day life and offers touching and apt insights on the lessons acquired through everyday interactions and typical, normal, human behavior.
The book is warm, wise, unpretentious; it reflects common sense and is thought provoking.
on May 12, 2007
Bad Haircut is a collection of stories about the life of the main character, Buddy. It starts off when he was a lil kid, and carries the reader through his teenage years. Most stories are humorous and filled with real life characters. The story is set in the seventies; so you can imagine all the drug and sex action going on. Some stories are on the dry side, but overall the book is a good, easy read.
on June 22, 2000
This book really succeeds in capturing the feel of the 1970s in the way I remember them rather than the way the era is usually evoked through clothes, hair, music, etc. The stories go beyond describing an era, though. Rather, they recover from the very ordinary, bordering on bleak, surroundings crystalline recollections of a rich, comical, wonderful childhood.