Wednesday, September 07, 2005

36. Little Children

by Tom Perrotta

I’ve read two of Tom Perrotta’s previous books – Election and Joe College – and Little Children is by far the most readable and put-together of the bunch. I feel kind of like I’ve watched Perrotta grow up as a writer. While his previous books were definitely engaging, neither of them possessed quite the drive of Little Children. The characters were more developed and the plots mingled together nicely. The book just seemed more…finished, I guess is the word.

Little Children is comprised of several stories involving the parents of small children. Sarah is a housewife, unsatisfied with her role as such and wondering what happened to the academic-minded activist she used to be. She finds contempt with the mothers with whom she shares her neighborhood playground, mothers who can’t remember the names of books they’ve read or movies they’ve seen and schedule weekly trysts with their husbands. Sarah doesn’t claim much responsibility for her position, chalking it up to inner weakness – “After all, what was adult life but one moment of weakness piled on top of another?” she reflects. “Most people just fell in line like obedient little children, doing exactly what society expected of them at any given moment, all while pretending that they’d actually made some sort of choice.”

A moment of weakness is exactly what leads Sarah to turn her life upside down. Enter Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad who frequents the same playground. The other women refer to him as the “Prom King” and titter amongst themselves whenever he enters the scene. Determined to show them up, Sarah strikes up a conversation with Todd that ends with them sharing a kiss. Life for the two of them is never the same again.

Meanwhile, a convicted child molester has moved back in with his mother and the “Committee of Concerned Parents” lobby to run him out of town. Todd finds himself mixed up with a group of men who call themselves the “Guardians,” ostensibly formed to play midnight football, but headed by a man so obsessed with the felon that he stalks his house and writes offensive messages on the property. Todd is dreading his upcoming bar exam, having failed it two previous times, and his wife is counting on his income as a lawyer so she can quit making boring documentaries and start filming things that matter to her. Sarah’s husband is also far from innocent as we learn that his involvement in the marriage isn’t at quite the level he’s been making it out to be.

What happens throughout the book is at turns predictable and surprising. Predictable because, how do these kinds of things always turn out? And surprising because the details of the story are so well documented that you can’t help but be shocked when the characters commit their various sins. I read this book in about two days, which is odd for me as I usually conk out on any given read after about a hundred pages or so. I wouldn’t say the book contained any profound treatises on life, although Perrotta sneaks in some interesting commentary on suburban parenthood, but it was just so engaging and fun to read that I didn’t want to put it down until I found out where everyone ended up. As Perrotta’s fifth book, you have to wonder if the guy’s just hitting his groove. And if that’s the case, I can’t wait to see what book number six turns out.


Blogger Janice said...

Little Children sounds interesting.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Little Children was an extremely riveting read -- Perotta's best. (His second best, btw and IMHO, is The Wishbones, about a guy who plays in a wedding band.)

5:24 PM  

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