marginalia || Little Children, by Tom Perrotta

I read this book on the sly. Swamped by school work (oh, holidays, how I miss thee) that needs most of my attention. Most. Hah. I began reading Little Children by Tom Perrotta a couple of weeks ago, but abandoned it halfway through (for reasons I will expound on later). But upon reflection (and with a deep desire to find any reason to not devote myself completely to academic shiznit), I realized that the Universe had conspired, that the Universe wants me to read this. The Universe and I are buddies, you see. The reasons: 1] The DVD of the movie version has been languishing in one of the drawers of my bedside table; I hadn’t seen it, even though for months its poster had been my desktop wallpaper. 2] Nick Hornby liked this book, and he said so in Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt. 3] I found this in a spelunking session in a BookSale, and bought it, assured that it was Fate.

How can I not read this? Plus, that killer first line: The young mothers were telling each other how tired they were. I had to read this.

Little Children is a novel that centers around a happy little suburbia overrun by housewives and children. Of course, everyone is dissatisfied. Everyone was once someone, and everyone now wants to be someone else (or what they were before). These are people stuck in terrible lives, and they’re terrible because they’re mundane, they’re (as Perrotta warns us) what most of us will end up having. There’s the woman who boasts of the efficiency of scheduled love-making (an hour every Tuesday). There’s the retired cop who shoots a black kid who was only carrying toy gun. There’s the convicted pedophile, one harassed by kid-rearing suburbia. There’s the ex-lesbian (what?), and there’s the golden boy househusband nicknamed Prom King. Here are people with families, with children, with compulsions that could’ve arose from pure desire to just utter boredom.

At the heart of the novel, is the story of Sarah and Todd. They have an affair, and it all began with a kiss in the middle of the playground, with all and sundry watching, including their own children. They’re both married—Sarah to a man who orders used underwear from SluttyKay.com, Todd to Kathy who happens to be a knock-out and a documentary filmmaker. They have an affair, and it goes the way Affair Programming wills it to. I mean, you get the picture.

Halfway through, when I put the book down, they’d only had sex once. And it was after an electrical storm. And the children were asleep on the sofa. Okay then. I was afraid the rest of the book would be as frighteningly trapping as the suburbia the story was set in.

Another reason why I set it aside last year was mainly this: it wasn’t Revolutionary Road. The problem with good books is that, over time, it asserts itself as the end-all and be-all of the goshdarned genre. Dissatisfied suburbia (and, coincidentally, Kate Winslet as leading woman)? Richard Yates. I found myself taking note of the shortcomings of Little Children, compared with the Yates’ novel:

  • Not subtle enough, not subtle at all—Perrotta reveals too much, there is no ambiguity. And I have loved ambiguity ever since my English teacher Mr. Saet used it as a vocabulary word in sixth grade. I didn’t like how Perrotta was eager to let me know what kind of people I was dealing with. Why they did what they did, why they felt the way they did. Yes, everyone and their mother has called this book a satire, but I didn’t want a part of that, not then.
  • Too tongue-in-cheek; whereas Yates unflinchingly characterizes the plight of the Wheelers, Perrotta takes a more satirical view, and in this satirical view, it feels like Perrotta is trying to involve me in a nudge-nudge wink-wink match I do not care for. Satire. Again. Fine.

But I came back to it, picked it up again. I still have pretty much the same complaints, but they’re bearable once I thought of the novel as my one savior in a sea of required readings. The rest of the book pretty much follows the same vein, the same mood, the same questions, the same over-all feel. Revelations, harassment, more kid-hating, more pain that can’t be called heartache because these people have grown lead hearts. Man, but there is so little mental kindness in this book, just saying.

There’s a shift, though, in the last chapter. And I like that chapter best. Especially the last scene. It’s so organic, haha. It’s where everything settles just in time for shit to hit the fan. I could read that last chapter by itself and be a happy little girl.

That’s all I can say about it, I guess. Which sucks, because I really wanted to like this book. I’ll sit on it. I mean, there are book I was MEH about in the first reading, but I let it sit, and it got better in my head, haha.

Oopsies, okay, required reading comes a-calling.

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7 comments

  1. Well if nothing else I think reading a book because Nick Hornby liked it is a good reason.

    1. Yep. I also suspect that I’m just whiny. Gah, I wanted to praise this book to the high heavens.

  2. It’s funny that you wound up comparing this to Rev Road, because the first few paragraphs of this post I kept thinking “Man, this sounds just like Revolutionary Road!”

    I didn’t love Revolutionary Road as much as you clearly did (or many did), although I respected it – it was just so bleak and suffocating. I think it’s impressive Yates could achieve that in his book, but do I want to read another book about it? Not really. Maybe the suburbs just aren’t for me! I think I’ll skip this one!

    1. I wanted it to be a “contemporary” version of Revolutionary Road, haha, that’s how much I loved that Yates book.

      And. Guilty as charged for liking bleak and suffocating dissastisfied suburbia. :]

  3. I loved your review! I haven’t read either Revolutionary Road or this book. but your review makes me want to all the more. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Honey. :] Revolutionary Road is the better book, IMO. Obviously it’s scarred me for life, haha.

  4. […] the loving, the not-loving, the telling one’s self to love despite the not loving. Think Tom Perrotta, but less annoying. Think a sample of Richard Yates. Think of Lionel Shriver‘s more insular […]

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