Sunday, April 05, 2009

Book 38: Little Children

Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Part of me is actually surprised I liked this book as much as I did. Obviously, I didn't buy a book expecting to dislike it, but once I'd started it, I thought I might have some issues with Perrotta. One of his main characters, Sarah, was a women's studies major in college, and in ways I felt like he used her to make fun of gender studies. It's not that I'm a humorless feminist, I can take a joke, but he goes for the stereotypes a little bit too much for me: Sarah discovers feminism, has a lesbian affair and takes classes like "Sexism in Literature," hating all those horrible male authors of the 18th and 19th century. Obviously, gender studies analyses gender dynamics in novels, but it's not like any of my professors ever said "you must hate this author because he's racist/misogynist" - often teachers taught these authors because they enjoyed their work despite their flaws, and saw it as illuminating of the society at that time as well. So yeah, I could have done without the few little crazy, man-hating radical feminist jabs.

Other than that, I actually liked the novel. Sarah is disappointed by the life she has somehow ended up in, and finds escape in an affair with Todd, a stay at home dad who is equally unhappy. In addition to the usual stuff about the suburbs and soccer moms, a local sex offender has recently been released from prison and moved back in with his mother. While the stats of course show that many sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated, his presence still raise issues and a certain amount of sympathy even. Despite what he has done, and what he may do again, men like Larry do not have the right to harrass him or his mother. As the instructor in my UVA class said, the registered sex offenders are at least known; the thing to worry about is the people who might be molesting children and just hiding it much better.

Basically, everyone in the novel is dissatisfied with their life. Todd's wife, Kathy, is tired of working and wants Todd to start making money so she can stay home with the kid for a while (personally, I wished she'd just embraced the idea of being a career woman) while Todd feels pressure from her but actually likes the stay-at-home dad thing. Given today's economic situation, it is a little weird to be reading about a bunch of rich people that can afford to stay home talk about their dissatisfaction but some of the characters were portrayed as ridiculous so the reader wasn't necessarily supposed to feel sympathetic with them. Between Sarah and Todd, Sarah may have been more willing to put everything on the line but she was also the stronger character to me, not more ridiculous. Perrotta actually throws in a parallel to Madame Bovary (never read it; I haven't spent much time with French lit) since Sarah has to read it in her book club.

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