BOOKS: Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta
The Wishbones

Tom Perrotta's first novel, The Wishbones, shows that there is more to a wedding reception than just the conga line. Using his coming-of-age collection of vignettes, Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies, as a springboard, Perrotta revisits suburban New Jersey, this time focusing on a group of musicians on the far side of 30, playing rock covers at postnuptial gigs.

Some might find the characters pathetic. Dave, the protagonist and lead guitarist, still lives at home with his parents and has trouble committing to his fiancé; the drummer, Stan, stalks his ex-wife. Yet Perrotta inspires empathy for the band members who, though far from the big time, have never given up their love for playing music. Sadly, however, the women characters are stuck backstage, serving only to perpetuate the now-tired "Yoko Ono Complex." Dave's fiancé tries to make him quit the band; meanwhile, the girlfriend of Ian, the lead singer, is blamed for pushing him to quit the band so that he can follow his dream--a musical about the JFK assassination.

Perrotta's insights into band politics are sharper. An over-ambitious manager lands them a gig on a right-wing cable access show; later, he opportunistically attempts to form a Christian rock band. When such hijinks begin to lag, Perrotta changes keys, introducing a romance into the mix. Dave initiates an affair with a bridesmaid, Gretchen, a poet living in New York City. Thereafter the tension builds around Dave's impending marriage and his overwhelming love for Gretchen. Whatever the beginning of The Wishbones promises, it seems the song remains the same.

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