Mega Dose

Wednesday, March 10th, 2004


Little Children

by Tom Perrotta

Life in the 'Burbs

A review by William Bowers

Tom Perrotta, author of the novel Election (yup, the one that became the Alexander Payne movie), is a shrewd observer of toddler politics. But the kids in his new book, Little Children, are less inspiration for the novel's title than a burden for the adults in the book to schlepp around. Or worse: One of the main characters in this novel bearing so seemingly innocuous a name is, well, a sex offender.

But Little Children is much more than just a tale of felony exhibitionism. It's the story of a mottled group of suburban parents in various states of dissatisfaction with their variously suburban lives. To wit: Todd and Sarah are house spouses eager for an extramarital affair with each other. Mary Ann schedules her sex life with pre-TiVo rigidity. Larry, the discharged cop, is hell-bent on harassing Ronnie, the sex offender.

Through all of this, Perrotta wisely refuses to condescend to the world he satirizes, and his masterful perspective-hopping provides the reader with a breezy omniscience over the characters' failures in life. The book is disarmingly funny but rueful; Perrotta handles his fictive offspring in just the same way Todd gazes at his deceived wife -- not mockingly, but with "something sweeter and more complicated." And above all else, the book's screenplay speed makes it infinitely readable. Little Children is a brave novel about the ugly by-products of lives spent seeking a vanilla balance of leisure and structure. In the absence of a great social novel with something new to say about the horror, the horror, we could do worse than settle for Perrotta's engrossing, compassionate gossip.

Click here to subscribeSubscribe to Esquire and Save 75%

Get 12 fantastic issues of Esquire magazine for only $8. The best culture, entertainment, style, financial advice, women and more delivered right to your door every month ? at an incredible 81% savings off the newsstand price! What could be better... or easier?

Click here to subscribe now!

  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at