Joe College / Edition 1

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2001 Trade paperback First edition. New. No dust jacket as issued. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 306 p. Audience: General/trade. first st martins griffin edition October ... 2001 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 the book is in new condition Read more Show Less

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The acclaimed author of Election and The Wishbones takes on the ultimate crucible of personal reinvention—college.

For many Ivy League college students, spring break means a raucous road trip to a spot in the sun. For Danny, a Yale junior, the spring of 1982 means two weeks behind the wheel of the "Roach Coach," his dad's lunch truck in central New Jersey. But Danny can use the time behind the coffee urn to try and make sense of a love life that's gotten a little complicated. There's loyal and patient hometown honey Cindy and her recently-dropped bombshell to contend with. And there's also lissome Polly in New Haven—with her shifting moods, perfect thrift store dresses and inconvenient liaison with a dashing professor. If girl problems aren't enough, there's the menace of the Lunch Monsters, a group of thugs who think Danny has planted the "Roach Coach" in their territory.

Populated by a vividly drawn cast of characters, Joe College is Tom Perrotta's warmest and funniest fiction yet, a comic journey into the dark side of love, higher education and food service.

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Editorial Reviews

Tom Perrotta is like an American Nick Hornby: companionable and humane, lighthearted and surprisingly touching...Perrotta has established a slightly befogged comic landscape that's his alone. Fans of such quirky indie films as "Chasing Amy" and "Dazed and Confused" should feel right at home.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HYale junior Danny is the winning narrator of Perrotta's fourth book--"winning" not just because he's smart and funny, but also because when it comes to college life, love and misbehavior, the guy always comes out on top. Conflicts in his life are neatly resolved through acts of grace or circumstance. Driving drunk on his spring break, Danny gets pulled over for a busted headlight--by a policeman who turns out to be an old high school friend. At school, the girl he likes calls him out of the blue to say she wants to sleep with him. And back home in New Jersey, his girlfriend, Cindy, pregnant with his child, makes a life-changing decision that leaves Danny free of guilt and responsibility. The resulting portrait is of a picaresque hero who's not just charming but charmed, a befuddled na f easily embracing everything life throws his way. Set in 1982, the novel is studded with references to that era's pop culture--Kansas songs on the radio; Jodie Foster sightings on campus. But the book's appeal is in its idiosyncrasies, not its name-dropping. Danny spends his spring break behind the wheel of the Roach Coach, his father's lunch truck, and must fend off the hostile Lunch Monsters, a gang of New Jersey thugs who want to steal his father's route. Story lines like that one prove that Perrotta (Election; The Wishbones) is in full control of his quirky comic sensibility, and they make it easy to root for Danny as he navigates his way from his blue-collar past to his privileged future. The novel leaves some loose ends hanging, but after things fall so neatly into place for its narrator, that comes as a relief--a reminder that art, like life, isn't perfect after all. (Sept.) FYI: Perrotta's Election was made into a film starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
No one chronicles growing up in suburban New Jersey in the late 1970s and early 1980s better than Perrotta. His short story collection Bad Haircut and first novel The Wishbones hilariously depicted the prolonged adolescence of working-class males in the Garden State. (His second novel, Election, about a high school political contest, became a terrific movie starring Matthew Broderick.) In Joe College, Perrotta moves to the campus of Yale University (although his hero still hails from New Jersey) to continue his witty exploration of young men becoming adults in spite of themselves. Narrator Danny, a Yale junior, is dreading the upcoming spring break; while his wealthier roommates have glamorous vacation plans, Danny faces 392 more grueling pages of George Eliot's Middlemarch, two weeks of driving his father's lunch truck ("the Roach Coach"), and seeing his old girlfriend Cindy, a secretary with a Charley's Angels hairdo and a not very surprising secret to tell him. Although the episodic plot has a pasted-together feel, Perrotta is a master of the light comic touch and wry social observation; his take on yellow highlighters and highlighting techniques is very, very funny ("George Eliot wrote with such sustained profundity that I found myself coloring over line after line after line, sometimes covering entire pages with a thick coat of yellow neon"). For all popular fiction collections.--Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Janet Maslin
It takes a sharp eye and a light touch, not to mention a fine memory for embarrassment (this book is set in the early 1980's, and at one point Danny dances à la John Travolta), to take on the back-to-school genre as knowingly as Mr. Perrotta has.
New York Times
New York Times Book Review
Most valuably for the success of this book, there is Mr. Perrotta's keen, inviting evocation of the process of undergraduate self-discovery.
Ron Charles
Perrotta's genius is his ability to depict student culture with dead-on accuracy. His satiric touch is like a light, but killing frost...
The Christian Science Monitor
New York Times Book Review
Perrotta has a knack for revealing the huge stakes in ordinary events..he's created an absorbing, fleshed-out portrait of an American male edging toward adulthood.... His prose is cheerful and smooth...full of funny, dead-on observations.
Entertainment Weekly
Revealing the inner workings of a Roach Coach is just one of the delights of JOE COLLEGE. Readers will revel in Perrotta's gift for telling detail...Hilarious...Perrotta transforms '80s nostalgia into art.
USA Today
An antic novel of academia and the middle class...Perrotta's forte is balancing the seriousness of Danny's emotional dilemma with comic barbs hurled at academic chicanery.
Ray Sawhill
There may never have been a more unassumingly winning treatment of a young man's divided loyalties...Perrotta [is like] an American Nick Hornby: companionable, and humane, lighthearted and surprisingly touching.
Kirkus Reviews
Another perfectly pitched, subversively hilarious chronicle of prolonged adolescence from the author of, most recently, Election (1998). If Salinger's Holden Caulfield had hit the books a bit more assiduously, and gotten out more, he might have turned into this story's engaging (if not fully engaged) narrator and protagonist Danny: an overachieving Italian-American kid from (Perrotta's chosen fictional turf) suburban New Jersey who finds himself at Yale as a junior English major, mired in the tricky coils of encroaching adulthood, five-alarm sexual confusion, and George Eliot's demandingly mandarin Middlemarch. Danny's blithe, slightly aslant wisecracking sensibility is evoked in dozens of subtly rib-tickling one-liners (he recalls an anticipated sexual conquest thusly: "I remember feeling like Wordsworth on the verge of a sublime experience"). Perrotta's episodic plot veers amiably among Danny's politely wary relationships with his several dorm-mates (the most memorable of whom, the unfocussed Max, is "studying" the lives of presidential assassins); the girl he left back home, who shows up with a surprise announcement (the expected one, and no surprise to the reader); and the goonlike "Lunch Monsters," who not-so-subtly suggest that his father's lunch-truck (the "Roach Coach," which Danny mans during vacation breaks and summers) pull out of "their" territory. It all zips along in ineffably reader-friendly fashion, rising to splendid comic heights in such neat sequences as a wild campus party (where revelers are "getting down with the grim determination of pioneers"), a rememberedhigh-schoolencounter with the dreaded bully known as "Psycho Midget," and the marvelous finale, in which varied promising and doom-laden intimations of Danny's uncertain future are deftly incarnated. No other contemporary novelist offers such a beguiling take on the evasive-action tactics of horny, good-natured, small-town Peter Pans who, whether they realize it or not, really don't want to ever grow up. Joe College almost makes you wish you could relive the whole godawful mess all over again.
From the Publisher

"An overwhelmingly pleasing book"--The New York Times

"An absorbing, fleshed-out portrait of an American male edging toward adulthood by crossing seemingly rigid social boundaries."--The New York Times Book Review

"Companionable and humane, lighthearted and surprisingly touching."--Newsweek

“Perrotta transforms eighties nostalgia into art.”—Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312283278
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/5/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.08 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta is also the author of LITTLE CHILDREN, ELECTION, THE WISHBONES and BAD HAIRCUT. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.


That Tom Perrotta struggled into his early 30s to find success should come as no surprise to fans of his work. A Yale grad, Perrotta studied writing under Thomas Berger and Tobias Wolff before moving on to teach creative writing at Yale and Harvard. It was during this period that he began work on the stories that would comprise his first release, Bad Haircut. He had finished two more novels (including Election, which would prove to be his breakthrough book) before Bad Haircut was finally picked up by a publisher in 1994.

It wasn't until a chance introduction with a screenwriter that Perrotta finally moved into the public eye. The result of that encounter was the publication of Election (1998), which was made into the much-beloved film starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. At last, Perrotta was able to call himself a working novelist.

The theme of ordinary people trapped in lives they never imagined runs throughout Perrotta's novels. Success for his characters is always just out of reach, and the world is always just outside of their control. Characters that seem destined for success serve as foils to the true protagonists, constant reminders of the unfairness of life.

Which is not to say that Perrotta's novels are depressing. On the contrary, his razor-sharp observations of the human condition are often side-splittingly funny, and the compassion he exhibits in his writing makes even the most ostensibly unlikable characters sympathetic. Perotta does not create caricatures; his novels work because he has a basic understanding that life is complex, and everyone has a story if you take the time to listen.

Good To Know

Some fun factoids from our interview with Perrotta:

"My mother is Albanian."

"I don't eat eggs."

"My dog lived to the ripe old age of 18."

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    1. Hometown:
      Belmont, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 13, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Summit, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Yale University, 1983; M.A. in English/Creative Writing, Syracuse University, 1988
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

pencil dicks

All through that winter and into the spring, when our Tuesday and Thursday night dinner shifts were done, Matt and I would sit at the long table near the salad bar and plan his end-of-the-year party, our voices echoing importantly in the cavernous wood-panelled dining hall.

    "What do you think?" he asked. "We gonna need more than two kegs?"

    "Depends, I guess. How many people are coming?"

    "A lot." Matt fixed me with those weirdly translucent blue eyes of his, eyes that sometimes made me think I was looking straight into his head. "I'm just gonna plaster the campus with signs that say, `Party at Matt's.' As far as I'm concerned, the whole school's invited, plus all of Jessica's friends from Columbia. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple hundred people show up."

    "A couple hundred? Your landlord's gonna freak."

    "I talked to him. He's cool about it."

    "Cool about a couple hundred people?" I hadn't had much experience with landlords, having lived only at home and in dorms for the first twenty years of my life, but even I had enough sense to be skeptical of this claim.

    "Lance is a party guy. Two glasses of grain alcohol and he'll be sliding naked down the bannister to answer the door."

    "Grain alcohol? Who said anything about grain alcohol?"

    "You can't have a really good party without it. Not the kind of party I'm talking about."

    "That stuff'll fuck you up," I said,trying to sound as though I were speaking from experience. It was a tone I'd pretty much mastered in my first two-and-a-half years of college.

    Matt looked away, a private, dreamy smile softening the intensity of his face. I followed his gaze down the long center aisle of the dining hall, taking quiet satisfaction in the order I'd imposed on what only an hour before had been total chaos. While Matt had been working the dish line, feverishly sorting the dirty plates, glasses, and silverware from trays that came streaming toward him on the conveyor belt, I'd been clearing tables, straightening chairs, emptying ashtrays, laying down fresh paper doilies and clean water glasses, propping up table tents, and wiping the floor with a big hairy dust mop. All the dead guys on the wall, the former masters and rich donors and esteemed scholars, looked down upon my handiwork with solemn approval. They appreciated a clean dining hall and were glad I had made myself useful.

    "What I really want," Matt mused, "is a party where everyone gets laid who wants to."

    "There's a name for that."

    "I'm not talking about an orgy," he said, apparently disappointed in me for thinking that he was. "I'm talking about a situation where everyone gets lucky in their own way."

    "Sounds like an orgy to me."

    Nick, the Tuesday-night chef, emerged from the kitchen and trudged over to the table to join us for a final cigarette before heading home or out to a bar, wherever it was he went after work. I always did a double take when I saw him in street clothes. Out of uniform he struck me as a plausible human being, an average guy in a belted leather jacket, rather than the sweaty buffoon he impersonated during working hours, a malcontent in a puffy hat muttering an incessant profane monologue as he tossed sprigs of garnish onto trays of scrod in white sauce and meatless baked ziti.

    "What's up, pencil dicks?" he inquired, pulling up a chair at the far end of the table as if to illustrate the gulf between us. There didn't seem to be anything hostile in the gesture, just an acknowledgment of fact. We were college boys; he had to work for a living.

    "Matt's planning an orgy," I informed him.

    Nick nodded calmly, as though he frequently received advance notice of such gatherings.

    "An orgy, huh? When's it gonna be?"

    "End of the semester," said Matt. "You comin'?"

    Nick adjusted the flame on his Zippo before lighting up. This was in 1982, back when smoking was commonplace in the dining halls and dorms, and many seminar tables were matter-of-factly equipped with ashtrays.

    "Kristin gonna be there?" he asked.

    Kristin Willard was a prep school girl from Greenwich who worked the serving line a couple nights a week, a long-limbed beauty with an overactive social conscience who could break your heart even in one of those hideous blue synthetic shirts they made us wear on the job. Nick had a crush on her just like the rest of us, only worse.

    "Fuckin' A," said Matt. He said this a lot when Nick was around. "You think I'd throw an orgy without inviting Kristin?"

    Nick wiped at the moustache of sweat droplets that was as much a part of his face as his eyes and nose and gave a shrug that indicated a certain lack of faith in our judgment.

    "Knowing you asswipes," he grumbled, "it'd probably just be the three of us."

Still wearing his paper dining-hall cap—this was a peculiar affectation of his; sometimes he even wore it to class—Matt walked me to my entryway and waited by the door with a strange air of expectancy, as if he wanted me to invite him in. He was often like this when we parted company on work nights, and I got the feeling he wasn't too keen on returning to his off-campus apartment. He had transferred from the University of Michigan a year earlier and still seemed a bit adrift, unable to find his place in the social formations that had crystallized before his arrival.

    "I got a shitload of reading to do," I explained. "Two books of Paradise-fucking-Lost and as much of Middlemarch as I can stomach without slitting my wrists."

    As a defense against looking like a weenie—a term I'd never even heard of until I arrived at Yale, a hotbed of weenies if there ever was one—I had recently adopted the strategy of complaining bitterly about my reading, even to people like Matt, who understood that I didn't mean a word of it.

    "More Whitman for me," he said.

    "Whitman? Don't you have to finish that Shakespeare paper?"

    "I'm so deep into Whitman, I can't even think about Shakespeare right now. As far as I'm concerned Leaves of Grass should be the frigging Bible."

    "The Gospel According to Walt," I said, stepping aside to clear a path for two cute sophomore girls in humongous thrift-store overcoats.

    "Gross, hankering, mystical, NUDE!" Matt recited, shouting the words like a crazy person in a bus station. The overcoat girls stopped in their tracks, whirling to regard him with startled, disdainful expressions. I directed my attention to Sterling Tower—it was lit up again, glowing like an ad for Higher Learning—attempting to create the impression that my proximity to the maniac in the paper hat was purely coincidental. "`HOW IS IT I EXTRACT STRENGTH FROM THE BEEF I EAT?' "he continued, pleased beyond words by Whitman's inscrutable inquiry.

    "Hey," he said, his voice returning to normal as the girls disappeared around the corner into the courtyard. "Wanna grab a slice later on?"

    "I can't. I really have to make some headway on Middlemarch. I hate going to seminar unprepared."

    He nodded; even in the dark, I could see the disappointment on his face.

    "All right, man. I guess I'll see you on Thursday then."

* * *

On the way up to my suite, I had to stand aside to make way for the Whiffenpoofs who lived across the hall. They came barreling down the stairs in their tuxedos, belting out "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in impeccable three-part harmony, off to yet another command performance. Trip winked at me; Thor greeted me with an upraised fist. Nelson Harriman, who was wearing a white silk scarf and looked, as usual, like he'd stepped out of The Great Gatsby, managed to toss out a quick, "Hey, guy," in between the nonsense syllables of the song.

    When I arrived at Yale in 1979, I'd been totally unprepared for the centrality of singing groups to campus life, the excitement that surrounded the news that so-and-so had been tapped to be a Spizzwink or an Alley Cat, the presence of one group or another at every official university function you could think of, the number of people who'd tell you proudly on Sunday morning that they'd spent Saturday night at a "jamboree" featuring Red, Hot & Blue and the Duke's Men. I remembered wanting to laugh out loud the first time I saw the S.O.B.'s at our freshman dinner, their heads bobbing up and down like pistons as they mugged their way through that stupid song about putting the lime in the coconut, then slowly realizing that nobody else at my table seemed to find this spectacle even remotely idiotic.

    My alienation from the singing-group subculture had only grown stronger in the months I'd spent living across the hall from Nelson, Thor, and Trip. It wasn't that they were bad guys—with the possible exception of Trip, who seemed suspiciously eager to put in a good word for the South African government whenever the subject of apartheid came up. What amazed me was the amount of time the Whiffenpoofs demanded from them, the way their membership in the group seemed to define their entire identity. Most of their time outside class was consumed by Whiffenpoof functions; even their vacations were given over to Whiffenpoof tours. It was true that they got to sleep with Whiffenpoof groupies and visit great Whiffenpoof places—you couldn't brush your teeth next to one of them without hearing about their latest junket to Monaco or Bermuda—but it still didn't seem like a worthwhile trade-off to me. The way I saw it, no amount of sex or travel would compensate for the humiliation of belonging to a group with such a stupid name. For my money, it would have been only marginally more embarrassing to claim membership in "The Shitheads" or "The Dingleberries."

When I got upstairs, Sang, Ted, and Nancy were sitting in the common room with their coats on and backpacks at their feet, listening to Steely Dan's Gaucho, the album of the moment in Entryway C. They could procrastinate like this for hours if no one had a paper or a problem set due the next day, playing the same side over and over again while desperately reassuring one another that they were off to the library any second. These reassurances would continue until someone bowed to the inevitable and shyly floated the alternative of pizza.

    The sight of them made me doubly glad I hadn't invited Matt in. The few times he'd mingled with my suitemates, the results hadn't been encouraging. Matt had completely misread the ethos of our suite, deciding it was his duty to monopolize the conversation and impress my friends rather than sit back and let us regale him with anecdotes from our shared history, which was all we really demanded from a guest.

    "Danny," Ted commanded, before I'd even had time to unzip my coat, "you've got to tell Nancy about that time Seth went off on the fire alarm."

    Nancy was Ted's girlfriend, and had long ago attained the status of honorary suitemate. She had a room of her own in Pierson, but had abandoned it in October, soon after she had begun sleeping with Ted. Their cohabitation had continued even after Ted rotated out of his single into a bunk bed-double with Max. (Privacy turned out to be less of an issue than might have been expected, since Max was purely nocturnal, and didn't even think about going to bed until long after Ted and Nancy had headed off to classes.) I once asked Ted why he and Nancy didn't spend more time in her room, and he explained that Nancy's roommate was living with her boyfriend there, so it would have caused a lot of confusion if Nancy'd tried to reclaim her bed. In any case, Max, Sang, and I didn't mind having her around. She was a lot cooler than Ted and seemed to think the rest of us were pretty great, too.

    "I'm sure Nancy's heard that story a hundred times," I said.

    "That's okay," Nancy assured me. "I don't mind hearing it again."

    I glanced at Sang, who was paging through the phone director with curious ease, despite the fact that he was wearing very large ski mittens. He came from Southern California and found winters in New Haven all but unbearable. He put on his down jacket in mid-October and didn't even think about taking it off until we'd reached the sunny side of spring break. His ex-girlfriend Eve claimed he used to sleep in it every once in a while.

    "I have to take a shower," I said. "Why don't you tell it?"

    Sang glanced up from the Yellow Pages. He didn't seem to be searching for anything in particular.

    "Tell what?"

    "The story about Seth and the fire alarm."

    He pulled off one of his mittens and ran his hand over the top of his stiff new crew cut. As part of the grieving process for Eve, he'd decided to change his look from California surfer to Red Chinese nerd, and was clearly fascinated by the new topography of his head.

    "I have to go to the library," he said, removing his thick black eyeglasses and polishing them with great deliberation on the tail of his corduroy shirt. He put his glasses back on, tossed aside the phone book, and stood up. "I'm gonna be up half the night as it is."

    Ted turned back to Nancy, resigned to telling the story himself. He had that jerky grin on his face, the one that made you want to like him even when you knew that, deep down, you had grave reservations.

    "He wailed on that thing with a baseball bat," Ted explained, reducing the story to its essentials. "It's the middle of the night, everyone else is leaving the building, shuffling downstairs in their nightgowns and bathrobes, and this guy is standing there in these tartan plaid boxer shorts, no shirt or anything, beating on the fire alarm with this aluminum baseball bat, screaming, 'Take that, you fucker! Take that, you fucker!'"

    "Wait a minute," said Sang, who'd decided to sit back down. "Don't forget, this was like the fifth time in a row the alarm had gone off in the middle of the night. Lots of people were pissed."

    "Yeah," I said. "Not to mention the fact that the alarm was right outside our door."

    "He didn't stop," Ted continued, unperturbed by our interruptions. "The alarm stopped ringing, but he just kept beating on it for like a half hour. The cops came, but they were afraid to go near him."

    "Come on," I said. "It wasn't a half hour."

    "I'm exaggerating," Ted explained. "It's an effective storytelling technique."

    "He was clinically depressed," Sang pointed out. "He'd been acting kind of weird for a couple of months at that point. Remember? He and Max actually had a fistfight over whether Texas was bigger than Australia."

    "Australia's bigger," Nancy said uncertainly. "It's got to be, right? It's a continent."

    "The funny thing is," Ted went on, "he didn't hurt the fire alarm at all. Those things are basically indestructible."

    "Ruined my bat, though," I said. "Dented the shit out of it."

    "Turned out to be the first time in his life he'd ever swung one," Sang added. "Can you imagine? An American guy, nineteen years old, never even swung a baseball bat."

    "That was probably like half his problem," said Ted, who was taking a class in Abnormal Psych.

    "Is he okay now?" Nancy asked.

    "Max was in touch with him for a while last semester," I said. "He's taking a couple of classes at community college, trying to get it back together. He was supposed to come visit for the Harvard game, but his parents wouldn't loan him the car or something."

    "Get this," said Ted. "Did you know it's like a federal crime to damage a fire alarm? There was talk of the university pressing charges, but they let him off with counseling."

    Sang cast a plaintive look at the door.

    "We should call him."

    Ted kept shaking his head in delight, as if the story got better and better the more he thought about it. He hadn't been friends with Seth, and didn't seem to notice that the rest of us found the memory of his breakdown upsetting rather than hilarious. He raised an imaginary bat over his head and brought it down hard on an imaginary fire alarm.

    "Take that, you fucker!" he said, dissolving into giggles.

The door to my single was closed. I opened it to find Max sprawled out on my bed, barefoot and shirtless, reading Assassin's Diary. Every bone in his rib cage was visible, clearly articulated against its taut sheath of skin. He was a dedicated vegetarian, the first I'd ever known, and his thinness was the source of both amazement and concern for the rest of us.

    "Hey," he said, eyes straying from the page to issue only the briefest flicker of greeting. "Wanna know something cool? Arthur Bremer was all set to kill Nixon in Toronto, had a spot along the motorcade and everything, but missed his chance because he decided at the last minute to run back to his hotel room to change into a shirt and tie. He wanted to look respectable on the evening news after he was arrested for killing the president. Isn't that great?"

    After John Hinckley's attempt on Reagan's life the previous year and the revelation that he'd done it to win the heart of our fellow Yalie, Jodie Foster, Max had become fascinated by the links between Hinckley, the movie Taxi Driver, and the story of George Wallace's would-be assassin, Arthur Bremer, who seemed to be at the root of it all. He had the feeling that the tangled knot of history, pop culture, celebrity, class resentment, insanity, and sex contained some essential nugget of truth about our society. He'd gotten an Am Stud grad student to agree to supervise an independent study on the subject, but the department had nixed the project, leaving Max to pursue it on his own, to the detriment of his actual classes.

    "Uh, excuse me," I said. "I was under the impression that this was my room."

    Max looked around, my autographed picture of Uncle Floyd and the crooked Mark Rothko print confirming the fact that this was indeed the case.

    "Yeah, well, I got home from the library, and Ted and Nancy had barricaded the door to my room. You weren't around so I figured I'd borrow your bed for a while."

    "Well, your room's free now," I said, sounding harsher than I meant to.

    He sat up, looking more bewildered than hurt, and ran his fingers through the knotted mop of his curls. Sang and I had once pressed him on the issue of hair care, and he'd finally admitted, after much prodding, that he didn't actually own a comb or a brush and did all of his grooming by hand.

    "Sorry, man. Didn't mean to violate your space."

    "Don't worry about it," I said, suddenly feeling like a jerk. Only a few weeks earlier, this room had been his, so it was a little weird for me to be pulling rank like this. "I'm kinda stressed. I've got a lot of reading to do tonight."

    "I'm outta here," he assured me.

    He hopped off the bed, took a couple of steps toward the door, then stopped. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, grimacing with the effort of recollection.

    "Oh, yeah," he said. "I forgot to tell you. Cindy called again last night."

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For many college students, Spring Break means fun and sun in Florida. For Danny, a Yale junior, it means two weeks behind the wheel of the Roach Coach, his father's lunch truck, which plies the parking lots of office parks in central New Jersey. 
But Danny can use the time behind the coffee urn to try and make sense of a love life that's gotten a little complicated.  There's loyal and patient hometown honey Cindy and her recently dropped bombshell to contend with.  And there's also lissome Polly back in New Haven--with her shifting moods, perfect thrift store dresses and inconvenient liaison with a dashing professor.
If girl problems aren't enough, there's the constant menace of the Lunch Monsters, a group of thugs who think Danny has planted the Roach Coach in their territory.
JOE COLLEGE is Tom Perrotta's warmest and funniest fiction yet, a comic journey into the dark side of love, higher education and food service.
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Reading Group Guide

1. In their final encounter, Cindy suggests that Danny has taught her an important lesson. What is this lesson? Is it helpful or harmful to Cindy?

2. When he returns home for Spring Break, Danny has an epiphany of sorts, courtesy of a voice in his head: "I could just be myself, my father's son, living out my life in the town where I was born . . . . I could learn to love [Cindy] the way my father had learned to love my mother . . . . all that could be enough." Is this true? Or is Danny kidding himself?

3. Who grows and changes more over the course of the novel, Danny or Cindy?

4. Some readers feel that Danny gets off too easily in Joe College, that he's never really held accountable for his actions. How does Danny himself feel about this issue? What about the characters around him?

5. What does Danny's journey in Joe College tell us about social mobility and social class in America?

6. Is Danny simply living out the American Dream, an updated version of the Horatio Alger myth? Or is he the beneficiary of a flawed system that gives special privileges and opportunities to a chosen few?

7. The Lunch Monsters are a particular Perrotta creation. How do the thugs represent the author's attempt to flesh out Danny's guilt? Danny says, "There must have been something I was trying to prove by picking a fight with these guys," but it's not clear what Danny is trying to prove, or to whom. What do you feel he's trying to prove? Could it be an attempt to assuage his guilt over Cindy?

8. At several points in the story, the author uses a pause and an absence of sound to indicate that a significant event has just occurred. How do these pauses provide a framework for the momentum of the story?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2003

    Less entertaining than I expected

    I had fairly high hopes for this one, it looked good from the back cover description. But when I read it I just wasn't drawn into the story. There were some funny moments, but for the most part I found myself hating the main character more than anything else. He reminds me of the jock in high school who sits in the back laughing at nerdy chicks and trying to get laid. It's hard to like a book when its central voice isn't a likable person.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2002

    terribly immature

    when i say immature, i do not refer the to nature of the story. the writing is raw and is more like what i would expect out of a beginning fiction writing class. it's as if perotta is an insecure intellectual whose academic merits have just been challeneged. it's as is perotta were trying to prove to the world that he is, indeed, well read - or at least is aware of the titles and authors of relatively obscure writers and thinkers of academia. although the end of the novel is about as satisfying as locking your keys inside your car on a blazing hot summer day, i see that he wsa trying to tie the whole novel together through Measure for Measure. however, it just felt contrived and tacked on. although perotta tries to convey the variegated and culturally diverse nature of the yale student body, he portrays a university that seems to comprise itself of nothing more than a couple of english majors who have nothing to say and a korean guy. perotta missed an amazing opportunity to drive the plot of the novel through the 'intellectual' debates of yale students. instead, with the exception of the first scene in which eric the caped crusader is introduced, their conversation comes off as irrelevant drivel used to fill up enough pages to make the book longer than 300 pages. the edition i read was 301 pages. the book, however, does have some redeeming qualities. i would recommend it to high school readers or casual summer readers. it's an easy book to put down and leave for a while. even if you picked the book back up again and subconsciously skipped thrity pages or so, it would not matter because the story is that predictable. there was great potential for this novel and i do, in fact, anticipate what more refined efforts from perotta may bring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2002

    Pretty good

    I liked this book well enough. It was interesting and engaging.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2001

    Tom Perotta is our Nick Hornby

    First Election. Now this?!@* Tom P has done it again. A funny guy and a better writer, attuned to the subtleties of relationships (familial and otherwise) and chock-full of literary references that bring back college days with frightening clarity. I'm looking forward to his next and so should you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2001

    Not Bad, but Not Outstanding

    Danny is a junior at Yale whose spring job consists of helping his father with his lunch truck business. As most teenagers know, life is a challenge. This is what college is really all about! An ideal book to read over break since it is set during the spring break of 1982.

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    Posted January 14, 2011

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    Posted February 22, 2010

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    Posted December 1, 2008

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    Posted January 8, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2008

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