Little Children - Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta is the author of Election, which was made into the movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Matt Broderick. It's a dark comedy, filled with fallible people watching as their mistakes and bad decisions snowball out of control. I heard of Little Children through the Powell's email newsletters I get every day. In fact, it was picked twice for their "Daily Dose" (suggestions from other readers) and twice for their "Review-a-Day," so I thought it might be worth a read.

Some reviewers have been impressed with Perrotta's sharp, incisive portrayal of 30-something parents, but reading this right after On Paradise Drive just underscores how much this book fits into the "superficially boring and artificial but secretly sick and psychotic" stereotype of suburbia. Most of the characters are some sort of stereotype as well: the ubermom with perfectly-behaved kids and well-stocked diaper bag, the frazzled feminist who's frustrated with motherhood, the businessman sucked into Internet fantasies, the working mom who just wants her husband to get a job so she can stay home and have more babies, and the handsome stay-at-home dad (referred to as the other playground moms as the "Prom King"). Throw in a sex offender who moves in with his elderly (protective but deteriorating) mother and the discharged cop who hassles him, and you can pretty much write the story yourself. Oh, right, and the mother-in-law brought in to spy on the unfaithful spouse.

Perrotta tends to tell, not show. Instead of showing you through actions and dialogue what a person is like, a typical character description is as follows:

...Theresa, mother of Courtney. A big, raspy-voiced woman who often alluded to having drunk too much wine the night before, Theresa was Sarah's favorite of the group. Sometimes, if no one else was around, the two of them would sneak a cigarette, trading puffs like teenagers and making subversive comments about their husbands and children. When the others arrived, though, Theresa immediately turned into one of them.

He also doesn't handle his characters very well. Most of the book is about Todd and Sarah, who have an affair, but then he throws in brief sections about Mary Ann (the ubermom) after ignoring her for pretty much the entire middle section of the book.

Finally, the ending was disappointing. Instead of having everything tie together in some sort of final conflict or resolution, Perrotta jumps from character to character in an attempt to tie things together that just ends up feeling like a loose jumble. It's the sort of book that you expect to end with some sort of bang, but all you get is a fizzle. The only really good thing about this book is that it made me appreciate how well I get along with my own circle of friends and family.

Fed to jonathan's brain | March 03, 2005 | Comments (0)


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