Monday, July 18, 2011
Little Children by Tom Perrotta
Perrotta has written a caustically funny satire of thirty-something suburban American life that we laugh at even as we see ourselves and our faults unerringly displayed. The film of contentedness over suburban Bellington is disturbed when a child molester moves back in with his mother. Even Perrotta's crack opening salvo--descriptions of the mothers at the playground discussing their children, other mothers’ children, their husbands, their sexual habits (or not)--helps us to realize that this is one author who listens and can make a joke of even the most painful circumstance. No matter how bad or boring things get, he’ll be able to see what is funny in it.
Perrotta takes a stab at the politically correct, skewering the liberal left (for believing the child molester was probably innocent because he wasn’t convicted of murder), and the righteous right (for believing the child molester was guilty before he was convicted of murder). The problems and insecurities and small-mindedness and flat-out lying that all the characters exhibit tell us so much more about what we think we can get away with and never can…but such outrageous and egregious faults! Perrotta must have sat around thinking of what would be the worst of all the faults one could encounter in a spouse: faithlessness, online porn and used-panty fantasist, child molester, alcoholic, serial failure…when the child molester wishes he were an alcoholic instead, one just knows there is no way to escape unscathed.
But we have seen these characters, or parts of them, in the people around us. They are familiar, but not as funny as in this book. Here people are so flagrant and so flawed and so “other” that we can laugh and claim they are not us. But when our handsome no-pads neighborhood football QB and unfaithful spouse, Todd, says to his working wife, “Sarah? Sarah who?” we cringe for him, for his wife, for the children, for ourselves because he/we are fooling ourselves that we can get away with something when the game is already up. Someone has caught us out, seen us for who and what we are. But somehow, Perrotta still allows us to laugh, despite the sordid tragedy of it all.
At the encouragement of a Goodreads friend, I picked up Little Children in advance of the July 28, 2011 fundraiser for the Boston Literary Festival scheduled for October 15, 2011. Tom Perrotta is scheduled to answer questions posed by comedian Steven Brykman. Readers, let me know if you want to meet up with a dedicated group of readers from Goodreads and BOTNS Boston to attend this function.
You can buy this book here: Tweet