Last month I was listening to one book and reading another and since they were both about families and adultery it was a little head-banging to go back and forth. One was Monica Ali’s new book Love Marriage and the other was Tom Perrotta’s 2004 novel Little Children. I read Love Marriage on my e-reader and listened to Little Children (read by a terrific narrator). I enjoyed both but wanted to write about Little Children. I’d never read anything by Tom Perrotta and Little Children is often listed as his best novel, so I figured I’d start with that. It’s hilarious and I’m now a Perrotta fan. His writing reminds me of Carl Hiaasen–dark humor with social commentary–but in Perrotta’s writing there’s more character development and the plotting has more depth.
The story is about two unhappy, suburban, thirty-ish couples and the neighbors who orbit around them. Handsome jock Todd, a stay-at-home dad, is ostensibly studying for the bar exam (which he’s already failed twice) but instead of spending his evenings studying in the library, he’s watching the local skateboarding teens or playing football with a team of local cops. Todd has no intention of studying for the exam but can’t tell that to his hard-working wife who’s already exasperated by his lack of ambition.
Todd takes his son to the playground every day but the local mothers won’t talk to him; they call him the “Prom King” and keep their distance. A dad at the playground breaks all their social norms. Sarah, tired of the playground moms’ rigid attitudes, and ready for an adventure, approaches Todd to chat him up and scandalize the other moms. What ensues, as any reader could guess, is an affair that shakes up their lives. Meanwhile, Sarah’s husband, Richard, has his own sordid secret life. And Larry, one of Todd’s football buddies, is on the warpath about a convicted pedophile who’s just moved back to the neighborhood.
I know the above summary doesn’t sound particularly funny, but Perrotta takes all these folks with their obsessions and opinions and mixes them into a wicked comedy without losing sight of their humanity. There’s a scene in the local church with Larry and the pedophile that is so hilarious you won’t be able to forget it. Some characters get their just desserts, some learn hard lessons, and some get away unscathed.