This Week's Reads

Davy Rothbart and Tom Perrotta.

Found! The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World

By Davy Rothbart (Fireside, $14) Anyone who's seen my office at Seattle Weekly knows that I don't throw things away nearly often enough. So naturally, when I was given Found!, the book-length compendium of Davy Rothbart's self-published cult- classic magazine of cast-aside letters, notes, signs, photos, drawings, and whatever else its editor can get to Xerox decently, I was, initially, profoundly irritated. It's not as if I need reminding that I'm surrounded by too much stuff, much less having those reminders shoved in my face festooned with cutesy little tags. Those tags are the most annoying thing about the book: Did a handwritten note reading, in full, "10:55. 5/21. Please admit Josh. [Signature unintelligible]," really need to be given the title "Please Admit Josh"? Well, it figures that a bunch of pack rats wouldn't be able to leave well enough alone. Rothbart, the many readers who send him items, and the trash lovers both famous (cartoonist Lynda Barry) and not (bookstore employee Dave Hewitt) that he interviews clearly adore the castoffs they present to the world— frequently, to the point of distraction. This means that about half of the objects in Found! are upstaged by their presentation. For instance, an amateur's lost-and-found drawing of a rabbit, with its hind legs about midway up its spine, is appended with a sniggering Post-it note from the editor exclaiming, "If that's what the little guy really looks like he couldn't have roamed too far!" Thanks for letting us figure out the blindingly obvious for ourselves, Davy! That puppy dog attitude pervades Found!, and it's the main reason so much of the book's artifacts are you-had-to-be-there slight: Even if you have a fervently over­active imagination, there are only so many man-hours one can devote to the appreciation of junked grocery lists and photocopies of other peoples' keys. But when Rothbart and company get a good one, it's very good indeed. The rule with this stuff is that, generally, the longer it is, the better. There's plenty of crackpot theory, like the letter in marker on p. 68 purporting to expose the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky affair as a "set up by a group called the Illuminati. These armoured Christian soldiers whos life effort is to fullfil the book and end time as we know it. Only they believe they should survive and we the people should die [sic throughout]." A high-school English paper on the pros of legalizing prostitution begins, "Who wouldn't like to fuck a whore?"—a better lead than I've come up with in seven years as a professional. (Writer, you smart-asses.) People don't just fuck hypothetically in these pages, either. There's plenty of confession and recounting, the most arresting on p. 124, from a woman with tiny handwriting berating her girlfriend for sleeping with a male ex—and seeming to get off on her descriptions of the act almost as much as the woman she's castigating. The saddest is on p. 42–43, a two-page note from a teenager to the father he idolizes—even though, as it becomes more clear with each paragraph, the father doesn't deserve his son's acknowledgment, much less adoration. Not only does Rothbart assemble his jumbled pages with clear tape, with every rough edge showing; the tape and page curls show, too, ostentatiously—they're as much a part of what he's selling as the findings themselves. Obviously, people still make 'zines, but Found! is a deliberate throwback to their '90s heyday, before the Internet usurped the self-publishing impulse and the oddball- Americana-mongering that put magazines like Rothbart's at the center of a subculture. As for me, I've paid the book the highest possible compliment: It now sits in a pile somewhere in a corner of my office. MICHAELANGELO MATOS Davy Rothbart will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co., 7:30 p.m. Wed., June 9; and University Book Store, 7 p.m. Thurs., June 10. Little Children

By Tom Perrotta (St. Martin's Press, $24.95) Like a New Jersey version of Britain's Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), Tom Perrotta chronicles the aging process of the rock generation—or rather, its desperate, die-hard, amusingly and cluelessly futile attempts to stall the aging process. Perrotta's breakthrough book, Bad Haircut, captured his (and every­body's) '70s high-school milieu; Election (made into an immortal movie) tickled the high-school body politic; Joe College fondly skewered the suburbs-to-Yale experience; and The Wishbones accomplished what The Wedding Singer should have—the deconstruction of a 30ish loser's superannuated 1980s cover band. Little Children is Perrotta's most grown-up book. Now his boomer characters are in their mid-30s, bewildered to be saddled with kids, still just confused adolescents themselves, only with much less energy—worn out by demanding 3-year-old dynamos and the dead-end maze of marriage. Sarah, watching her toddler at the park with three vaguely Stepfordish friends, reminds herself to "think like an anthropologist. I'm a researcher studying the behavior of boring suburban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself." Like so many boomers, she thinks the rules shouldn't apply to her. "Most people," she muses, "just fell in line like obedient little children, doing exactly what society expected of them at any given moment, all the while pretending they had a choice." A recovering bisexual Starbucks barista and failed feminist film critic, she had expected a life more along the lines of infinite possibility and unpredictable passion, not one bounded by the sandbox. So when Sarah spots a hunky dad at the playground known to the moms as "the Prom King," she's the one who walks over, chats him up, and kisses him full on the lips, scandalizing her jealous friends. He turns out to be Todd, the other more- or-less chief character. Handsome jock Todd is horny because his wife put their sex life on hold until he stops failing the bar exam and gets a lucrative law job. But while she's at work, Todd isn't studying; instead, he's lollygagging in Mr. Mom indolence and hanging out with skateboard kids and his still-more-juvenile colleagues on the Guardians, a policemen's football team. And turning his son's play dates with Sarah's daughter into play dates for him and Sarah, too. Sarah's lonely because her husband is a panty-sniffing addict of the Slutty Kay porn site. Todd's wife spends all day interviewing World War II vets for a documentary cashing in on the Greatest Generation craze. Sarah, Todd, and their spouses are as transparent as their disobedient little children, yet Perrotta's satire doesn't dismiss or discredit them. Like John Sayles, Perrotta makes sure that every character gets the same in-depth sympathetic treatment as the protagonists. For instance, Todd's football buddy Larry, a cop forced to retire in his 30s after shooting a kid who was wielding a toy gun, can't cope with his wife's demand that he get a job, nor with her newfound Catholicism. (After all, he met her as a bouncer tossing cold water on her chest at the Thursday Night Miss Nipples Contest at Kahlua's.) Larry takes out his rage on poor Ronald James McGorvey, a sex offender living in their nameless suburban neighborhood. Larry drags Todd along as he sets dog doo afire on the perv's porch and rings the doorbell, and riles up the community against him. Larry and his wife are great secondary characters, and even the tertiary characters are good—like the Guardians' rival football team, a bunch of Lexus-driving M.B.A. types called the Controllers. But Perrotta's stab at making everyone a round character falters at points. Sarah's supermom rival, Mary Ann, who schedules sex with her perfect husband as rigidly as her kids' bedtimes, is too schematic. And it's daring to put us inside McGorvey's twisted pederast head, as well as that of a semipsychotic girl he meets through a personal ad, but madness is unknowable to a satirist, and these two seem like Perrotta's normal characters with lunatic traits pasted on. On the whole, though, the book's a big leap toward big-league status. Perrotta's prose is as ruthlessly knowing and pitch perfect as that of David Gates (Jernigan) or Ann Beattie (Chilly Scenes of Winter), but he also has David Guterson's sweetness, Jonathan Franzen's wit, and Jane Smiley's gift for rendering authentic family scenes. TIM APPELO

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