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Review-a-Day
Esquire
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.


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