three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
Tom Perrotta
user_rating: 
0

A-LittleChildrenSarah, a former feminist and current stay-at-home suburban mom, is married to a loser who is addicted to Slutty Kay’s Internet porn site. Moreover, she views her three-year-old as an alien creature. Could suburban life get any worse? When she meets Todd, a stay-at-home dad who’s trying to pass the bar exam for the third time to please his disgruntled wife, they start an affair that satisfies their escapist yearnings. But can they avoid permanent yuppie ennui?
St. Martin’s Press.368 pages. $24.95.

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Perrotta’s scenes sneak up on you. He primes you to expect the worst and then delivers something more credible and amusing, developing his characters’ emotions in potent and surprising ways." Jon Boorstin

Boston Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"An absorbing, smoothly constructed novel of young parenthood ... a story that is timeless and placeless yet rock-solid in its appeal. With easy flowing, uncomplicated prose and a keen ear for dialogue, [Perrotta] has added another layer to what is becoming an impressive and durable body of work." Robert Mitchell

NY Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Little Children will be Mr. Perrotta’s breakthrough popular hit, but its undercurrents are more somber [than Election and The Wishbones]. … What distinguishes Little Children from run-of-the-mill suburban satire is its knowing blend of slyness and compassion." Janet Maslin

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With this novel, Perrotta has entered the land of Updike and Cheever, the messy world of adults who cheat on spouses and fail their children, but, unlike those excellent authors who staked out the territory, Perrotta’s excursion does not leave an aftertaste of bitterness that is so much a part of those writers’ work." Kris Collins

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This might sound like John Cheever run amok, except that Perrotta is a satirist. … He manages to satirize and sympathize at the same time, redeeming all his characters by digging deep for their shared humanity, which shines through in a surprisingly serious final scene." Mark Lindquist

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The relatively flimsy structure of the novel can’t support the subplot about [the child molester]. … A more mature writer might have pulled it off, but Perrotta doesn’t, and Little Children feels like two stories imperfectly grafted together, one darkly comic, the other merely dark." Charles Solomon

Critical Summary

Perrotta, whose novel Election (1998) was made into the hilarious movie of the same name, is a deft satirist. Most critics agree that the characters in Little Children, Perrotta’s first adult novel, are full entities, despite his occasional laughs at their expense. His attention to detail and talent for dialogue, which help him transcend mere parody and stereotypes, create a novel that manages to be funny and emotionally astute at the same time. The major cloud on the horizon? Some readers may bristle at Perrotta’s attempt to fit a subplot as serious as a convicted Girl Scout molester’s shenanigans into a work that is, on the whole, quite humorous.

Supplemental Reading

A-OnParadiseDrive.epsOn Paradise Drive How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense |David Brooks (2004): A humorous and insightful take on American suburban life from the author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. We will review On Paradise Drive in our next issue.

A-Election.epsElection A Novel | Tom Perrotta (1998): A terribly fun, satirical look at students running for class president at a New Jersey high school and a perfect teacher’s life gone horribly wrong. The movie is just as good.