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.