Difficult people

By JAMES PARKER  |  October 3, 2007

Dennis is satirized here, but then so is Best Buy. The boom box through the plasma screen is simultaneously a burst of hair-metal destruction and a passionate religious act. “Kids now don’t really have a counterculture,” says Perrotta. “At least not in the sense that I grew up with. And I think, for a lot of Americans, Christian culture is a counterculture. Like hippie culture, it’s the place where the norms are questioned. Like buying all this stuff, or living in a permanent state of virtual-sexual arousal — maybe they’re not so great! And here’s this other, serious alternative with a lot of steam behind it. So those Christians I’m actually very interested in. The ones who freak me out are the ones who see no contradiction between mainstream America and Christianity. Like George Bush — how that guy is a Christian I have no idea. He thinks he is. They say he is. But c’mon!”

As our meeting winds down into coffee and chit-chat, the busker playing behind us takes an unexpected turn into Hades: a soft, hooting acoustic version of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”: “Finished with my woo-man ’cos she couldn’t help me with my mind.” Perrotta (an avowed rock fan) is delighted, nodding along amazedly. The moment could have come from one of his books: a clue, a broken epiphany. We’re all in it, people. We’re all part of a vast machine that is calibrated — with a precision both infinitely cruel and infinitely forgiving — to crack us right down to our centers. Which is why we read Tom Perrotta. Because in lucid, modest, ultra-intelligible language, he gives us the world.

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