Saturday, September 15, 2007

Will Tom Perrotta make my favorite authors list?

I'm still not sure. While I really loved Little Children, I'm still not sure how I felt about Joe College, which I finished last night.

I remember seeing this book around a lot several years ago. It was one of those that I'd always look at and think "maybe". Our library doesn't have Election, though, so I settled for this. It tells the tale of Jersey boy and Yale junior Danny, who spends his spring break driving his father's lunch truck ("The Roach Coach") and sorting out his complex love life. He has been working on this artsy Yale girl named Polly all semester long, when his summer girlfriend Cindy shows up at the most inopportune moment with a bombshell (you can probably guess of what nature). Most of the story is told in flashbacks, and a cast of other characters swirl around him, like they swirl around everyone at that age: his suitemates at Yale, his friends from the lit magazine, his friends from his dining hall job, his old friends from high school, his parents, the two girls. Perhaps because of this, the characters aren't quite as vivid as in Little Children. I had a hard time keeping his suitemates straight and clocking the various cautionary tales and reminiscences Danny shares with us (this book is written in first person).

Part of the problem is maybe that I didn't like Danny very much, nor did I really dislike him. Danny seems often to be surprised at his own behavior and motivations. He was shocked by the fact that he was just using Cindy, surprised to find himself happy in his dining hall job, amazed when he accidentally stood up to the Mob-backed lunch truck rivals The Lunch Monsters. He confesses his selfishness often when things work out his way to the detriment of others, which didn't make me like him any more. Yet things don't really turn out well for Danny, although all of his immediate problems resolve themselves. I don't want to get too specific and wreck the book for anyone, but he does wind up essentially alone, and seemingly repeating his earlier mistake with Cindy.

Most of the time when I finish a book, I know how I feel about it right away, and look forward to blogging my reaction. I spent much of my downtime during my Florida vacation thinking about how to express how much Citizen Girl sucked, and I couldn't wait to tell you all about the delights of some of the better ones I've read since January, including Feeling Sorry For Celia just last week. But I still don't know about Joe College. I did enjoy it, I guess, but it wasn't quite what I hoped. I can't even decide whether I recommend it or not. I'd be interested (as always) in hearing from anyone who's read this, and their opinions as to how they felt about it, and maybe what it was all supposed to be about.

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