on 27 August 2004
This time around, Perrotta takes satirical aim at the stifling confinement of suburban middle-class existence. To a man, his characters are lost, utterly bewildered as to how they've landed in their unremarkable lives, saddled with spouses and mortgages and children. Having drifted, almost involuntarily, into adulthood, they suddenly snap awake, and begin a dismayed accounting of their lives, all facing the same choice: do they resign themselves to the lifelong tedium of the roles outlined for them by society, or risk the censure of family and friends by abandoning the façade of responsible adulthood and striking out alone after individual happiness? Perrotta's characters are likable and, on a modest scale, tragic; from Sarah's halfhearted forays into being a strong-minded, independent feminist to Mary Ann's hard-won Martha Stewart perfection, their very natures are what will dictate the course of their lives and their inevitable discontent. Little Children is certainly a pleasure to read, with all of the sly humor and deft observation that Perrotta does so well. Whether it's the subtle jockeying for power among playground mothers, or the threadbare, joyless sexual relationship between long-married spouses, his prose is sparkling and clever. Surrounded by abundance and prosperity, free from any real hardship, the characters must invent reasons to be unhappy in order to give their lives dramatic shape; deliberating over which playground to take their children to, or which fruit juice is really the healthiest, only points up the futility and insignificance of their existence. There's plenty of inherent irony in the self-important, status-obsessed suburban lifestyle, and Perrotta mines it to the fullest - if you didn't know better, you might think the author himself had done time among backyard BBQs and afternoon play dates. This is a terrific read -- don't hesitate to pick up a copy! Also recommended: THE LOSERS CLUB by Richard Perez -- another Amazon quick-pick that I found entertaining.
on 25 January 2005
An amazing little gem of angst and turbulence. All the characters are not just tied to their children, they are defined by their relationships with their children. From the stay-at-home Dad living out his past glory days as a high school jock as he refused to grow up and get on with his law career to the bisexual feminist and her Internet porn addicted other - it is multiple messes in full glory in the tradition of "My Fractured Life", "The Ninth Life of Louis Drax", and "Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction."
There is a problem with seeing the film adaptation of a book before you have actually read the book, in that it gives you someone else's perception of the characters which it can be difficult to shake off.
The film of this book made me feel slightly uneasy; as is so often the case, however, the book is a more complex, multi-layered affair which adds up to a subtle black comedy satirising the aspirational middle classes of suburban America, with their obsession with appearance and tangible achievement and holding up their flaws to an unforgiving light.
There are times when the satire is a little heavy-handed; the passage towards the end of the novel, when Mary Ann's background is being filled in, is more than a little blunt and sits uneasily with the rest of the piece. I also fear that those of us who are not very familiar with America will miss out on some of the cultural references (the climactic American football match was more than a little opaque to me).
Ultimately, however, this book's ambit is not limited to a single nation; it is a witty, original take on life and love, desire and forgiveness which shows the unpleasantness, lies, deception and malice which often lurk just beneath the surface of eminent respectability.
I should not think Perrotta will be getting any voiceover work with Starbucks any time soon.
On the basis of this novel, Tom Perrotta is a master of character drawing, bringing together a group of assorted middle-class American mothers who meet at the suburban playground and a stay-at-home husband, the charismatic and perennial law degree flunker, Todd, whom the fascinated women admiringly call the ‘Prom King’. The mothers revel in describing their exhaustion, ‘one of their favorite topics, along with the eating, sleeping and defecating habits of their offspring, the merits of certain local nursery schools, and the difficulty of sticking to an exercise routine.’
Amongst the women are the right-wing Mary Ann, whose opinion of Madame Bovary is that ‘she’s a slut’ and whose life revolves around a fixed rota of children’s mealtimes and bedtimes, and parental sex [Tuesday nights at 9 prompt] and Sarah, failed academic [her proposed thesis ‘The Normalization of Abuse: Patriarchy and Marital Rape’ was never submitted] who is married to the much older Richard, currently enthralled by the webcam activities of ‘36-year-old married bisexual exhibitionist’ Slutty Kay.
Initially somewhat implausibly Todd and Sarah begin a passionate affair but as this develops the author makes their relationship and mutual dependency believable. Along with this story of family frustration, Perrotta creates a much darker story involving a paedophile, Ronald James McGorvey, and his mother, May, and the resentful ex-policeman and football enthusiast, Larry, who also has anger management issues. Larry is the driving force behind the local Committee of Concerned Parents. Given America’s propensity for [gun] violence, I found it hard to believe that Ronald would not have been speedily run out of town, or worse, particularly when rumours of even worse crimes swirl around.
Perrotta maintains his ferocious yet compassionate commentary throughout the book. There are, however, many genuinely comical scenes, not least descriptions of football matches that are generally impenetrable for a non-American readership. At one point the wonderful May encourages her son to go out on dates and despite an early draft of his lonely hearts’ advert, 'Overweight ex-con with receding hairline, bites nails and smokes like chimney. Likes kiddie porn and quiet nights in front of the television', he does venture out. The outcome again shows Perrotta’s innate ability to mix darkness, comedy and compassion.
Whilst the book’s title could refer to the offspring of these self-satisfied and bored adults, it really highlights the way in which the latter behave since the children themselves stubbornly remain on the periphery allowing the author to avoid the trap of sentimentality. The central characters engage in considerable reflection that allows them to appreciate the true extent of their shattered dreams. However, their solution seems to be little more than to seek the escape of new relationships and relive their teenage years.
Todd’s dread of failing his law repeats yet again is matched by his terror of passing them since that would make a legal career inevitable, removing the last opportunity for the freedom and irresponsibility that he craves. His wife, Kathy, a film-maker, sees such a career to be the answer to the couple’s financial and emotional insecurities. Repeatedly the positions his characters find themselves in are understandable and allow the reader the luxury of identifying with the consequences of making the wrong decision or the coming to the right decision for the wrong reason.
John Updike’s Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, also a serial escapee, will always be linked to the internal pressures of American small town life but this book stands worthy of comparison. I will be interested to see how the author’s other novels and short stories compare.
on 22 February 2007
I haven't seen the film! I really enjoyed this book, a quick and easy yet intelligent read. All the characters were well written and all the separate storylinrs worked well together. Worth a read.
I was expecting a really light read when I picked this one up and although it's certainly not heavy I was pleasantly surprised by the realistic characters and their storylines. While not hilariously funny it had just the right touches of humour, based on the observation of couples and marriages which I could certainly relate to.
Heck I even enjoyed reading about the (American) football!!
on 5 June 2006
Little Children really draws you in to the preoccupations of an quirky cast of characters living in your average American suburb.
Something for everyone I think, men and women, some of the bits with the children really made me laugh. Go buy it!
on 23 November 2015
Review by ireadnovels.wordpress.com
A group of young mothers were telling each other how tired they were. Sarah thought she was a researcher studying the behavior of boring suburban women. Cheryl is a mother of three-year-old Christian. Mary Ann is a mother of Troy and Isabelle. Theresa is the mother of Courtney. Each mother tells each other about their personal life. Nothing much seems to happen where they live, but that all changed. The gossip is that Ronald James McGorvey, a forty-three-year-old former Catholic school custodian and convicted sex offender, who had moved in with his elderly mother right near where the mothers with their children lived. Some of the mothers had to pass by there everyday on their way to the playground.
on 9 May 2016
I watched the film at least a year ago but always feel more loyal to the book. In this case, despite very different endings I'd say they're both worth the time.
As a mother of young children and wife there were moments and thoughts and situations that brought a wry smile to my face while reading.
I like Sarah, I think we could be friends (if she were real!)
I struggled a bit with the American football as I'm not familiar with the terminology but it was written well enough to get me through.
Perrotta is a high quality but utterly readable novelist dealing with weighty issues with a deft hand. Humour, tragedy, the whole shebang is in Little Children.
on 23 April 2004
Perrotta has crafted a sly tale of children trapped in adult bodies,coming to terms with their repetitive and incomprehensible lives. Thenovel begins and ends in a playground, but it's not the children that'sthe focus, but the adults who are acting like children. Tom Perrotta did amarvelous job of seducing us with Election - a quirky, black comedy, inwhich he exposes the dark side of human behavior. Now, with LittleChildren, he offers up a damning assessment of human relationships, andexposes the boredom and frustration that may lie at the heart of "average"suburban lives.
The novel centers on the chance meeting of Todd, the handsome, sexystay-at-home-dad nicknamed "The Prom King" with Sarah, a trendy, one-timefeminist, who has become trapped in a sexless, conventional marriage toRichard, an older man. The kiss that Sarah unwittingly smacks on Todd atthe local playground, leads to a desperate, highly sexual, and clandestineaffair, which in turn has ramifications for their marriages that neitherof them could have anticipated. There's also an effective subplotinvolving the arrival in the neighborhood of a convicted child molester,which presents some of the characters, particularly Larry, an ex-cop, witha quite challenging moral dilemma. With all this subversive andduplicitous behavior, Perrotta never judges his characters; he sees themas basically nice people trapped by their own inertia but at the same timehonest about their lot and stage in life.
Little Children is whimsical, light-hearted and amusing, and Perrottaachieves this tone by developing his characters emotions in potent andsurprising ways. Todd, the father of a new born son "begins to suspectthat there was something not quite right, something unresolved anddefective at the core of his being," and he thinks of the thrill, andelectrical current filling him with a conviction that a life with Sarah,is not only possible but absolutely necessary. There's Sarah's husband,Richard, sending away for mail order pornography, at war with his owndesires, and loosing in the end. And then there's Todd's husband, Kathy, adocumentary filmmaker, beautiful, gorgeous, and frustrated at Todd'sunwillingness to re-enter the workforce.
There are some wonderfully funny moments in Little Children: In one sceneduring a local church service, Larry, irreverently pulls Ronnie, the childmolester's pants down to the chagrin of the other worshipers. And inanother scene, when Sarah goes to a meeting to discuss the adulterousaspects of Madame Bovery, the subject keeps returning to illicit sex.Perrotta desperately wants us to like his characters in all theirpassivity and honesty; but frustration always lurks underneath, and theresult is a narrative that creeps up on you and builds in intensity.Little Children is a tremendously entertaining and unexpectedly vigorousnovel, which should provide the reader with many hours of readingpleasure. Mike Leonard April 04.