Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta Review

I was halfway through the novel when I realised a story wasn’t on the cards. Not that that bothered me too much (though it did a bit) – Mrs Fletcher is all about the characters, reflecting contemporary middle-class American culture, all of which is written pretty well – but, like the only other Tom Perrotta novel I’ve read, Election, I was left wondering what the author was trying to say; what’s the point of this book? 

Eve Fletcher is a 46 year-old divorcee dealing with life after her only son, stereotypical meathead jock Brendan, leaves home for college. She discovers porn and starts taking a class on sexuality at the local community college taught by a transgender woman, only to be pursued via text from an anonymous horndog who thinks she’s a total MILF. Meanwhile Brendan discovers college politics to be quite different from what he thought. Perrotta’s book follows these characters as they live their lives until a certain quota of pages is met and then the book just sorta peters out.

Perrotta is clearly a talented writer with a knack for skilfully touching on complex social issues like autism and transgenderism and portraying them empathetically and fairly. The characters, while not especially distinctive, are convincing for the most part but I did wonder where Eve’s attraction to women came from. She watches some girl-on-girl porn and suddenly she’s gay? Then towards the end she’s back to being straight. Er…

It’s because Perrotta’s such a capable writer that I wouldn’t say I was ever truly bored with the book but it’s such an aimless, meandering novel that I also found it easy to put down. The only point I could suss out was Perrotta’s observation that young men these days have a warped view of sex having grown up with online porn – Brendan and Julian, both 19, view women as objects and sex as scripted scenarios where they have to say things they’ve heard men in porn say. Other than that… eh. Nowt much happens, the characters go through some gentle, unremarkable changes and the novel ends. It's just weirdly banal - why write about these very specific things then?

Mrs. Fletcher is well-written, mildly entertaining in parts and it does feel very “now” in terms of the myriad sexuality issues occupying (too many) people’s attention today. But because it doesn’t have much of a story or anything unique or insightful to say about its subjects, ultimately it’s an unimpressive, forgettable read.

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