BAD HAIRCUT: Stories of the Seventies by Tom Perrotta (Bridge Works Publishing: $18.95; 208 pp.). Watergate, the oil crisis, disco, international terrorism, the Brady Bunch--no, the Seventies are best forgotten. For those who can, at least; forgetfulness isn't possible for Tom Perrotta, a child of that uninspired decade who's able, providentially, to turn Seventies dross into Nineties gold. "Bad Haircut" is a funny and ingenuous debut collection of stories, one focused on the childhood and adolescence of a standard-issue New Jersey youth named Buddy. He's a good kid--when asked by a schoolmate to grab a weapon and "rumble," Buddy thinks of his Swiss army knife and television's Fonzie--but his teen-age hormones ensure he will get into minor fixes nonetheless. In "Thirteen," Buddy covers up for Kevin, who's been stealing from his stepfather's gas station; we seem to know all about the family just from Buddy's describing Kevin's mother as "a thin quiet woman who smoked extralong cigarettes and told him to be careful every time he left the house." Buddy shows himself to be a born follower in "Race Riot," when he says of a school troublemaker who drives a white Camaro with an eight-track, "I liked Carvello when he let me ride in his car"; he continues to be very much the observer in "Snowman," where Buddy describes his pal Neil, with a hot hand on the basketball court, as looking as though "he heard God calling his name, or one of Charlie's Angels." It's the late-high-school tales that stand out in this collection, however, for in these stories Buddy, no longer passive, begins to assimilate the mixed blessings of adulthood. In "Forgiveness" he tells how a football teammate, a star, quits the squad upon realizing the coach is a manipulative, unprincipled bully; in "You Start to Live" and "Just the Way You Were," Buddy learns about the joy of sex and the pain of love. It's tempting to call Bad Haircut an "auspicious" book, but that doesn't say enough; in fact Perrotta has already delivered the goods.
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