Tom Perrotta’s “Nine Inches” is a short-story collection, with 10 discrete pieces featuring entirely different characters and situations. And yet the stories hang together so beautifully, the writing is so stylistically consistent, and the themes so closely related that the book feels like a novel or a collection of interlocking stories. It’s as if we’re wandering through a specific community in a particular town, as in James Joyce’s “Dubliners” or in so many of Ann Beattie’s and Raymond Carver’s collections. We’re in PerrottaWorld, where the stories, characters, and concerns all seem to rhyme.
And PerrottaWorld is located, of course, in the American suburbs. Over the years the Belmont-based author of “Little Children” and “The Leftovers” has been the literary chronicler of suburban angst. With “Nine Inches,” he further explores the ordinary lives of the quietly desperate middle class, with their school dances, baseball fields, broken families, and backyard pools. PerrottaWorld is a pretty place, but the sharp corners of despair keep breaking through the veneer of forced optimism and quaint architecture. The trees in Perrotta’s Northeastern towns are peaceful and lovely until a branch falls from a tree in your neighbor’s yard and breaks your fence.