Tom Perrotta is a man familiar with suburbia and its sexual quirks, hidden secrets, and comedic characters. His latest, Mrs. Fletcher, is more of what you may expect from Perrotta. This is not a bad thing by any means, and I enjoyed this novel well enough. I will admit, however, that I left the book feeling a little underwhelmed and can only give this three stars, though it has many good qualities.
The eponymous Mrs. Fletcher (Eve) lives in a quiet New England suburb (Haddington, not sure if it’s Connecticut or Massachusetts) with her teenage son Brendan. Her ex-husband has been gone over a decade, but when Brendan heads off for his freshman year in college, Eve feels completely adrift. One evening she gets a text from an unknown number that just says “U R my MILF.” A silly prank, she assumes, but it starts Eve down a path she never expected. She discovers a world of MILF-themed porn online and tastes and interests she never thought possible. Brendan is dealing with his own culture shock at college. What at first seems great – constant parties, drinking, flirting – turns sour. His roommate settles down with a girlfriend and no longer has time for their weed and video game antics. The girls around campus have no patience for his high school jock cat calling, especially Amber, his social-activist crush. On top of all that he has no idea what he wants to do with his life and he’s failing big time in most of his classes.
I am not really sure why this novel left me underwhelmed. The characters themselves, especially Brendan, are not particularly likable or self-aware, but that is nothing new with Perrotta and certainly not a prerequisite for enjoyment. Eve is more sympathetic than her son of course, because no one likes an asshole lacrosse player who demeans women during sexual acts, but everyone can sympathize with a middle-aged divorcee who is yearning to find herself. Amber, Margo, Julian, and various other characters whose names I cannot recall are fairly interesting and well written. The writing itself is compelling – I finished this in three days. The one thing that jumps out at me is more of a technical flaw than anything else and regards point of view. Perrotta switches between points of view with each chapter, and later, within chapters and I didn’t care for it. A chapter on Eve would be in third person omniscient, but the next chapter on Brendan would be first person. And some chapters on Eve would include third person details of other characters, as would the chapters on Brendan. Toward the end you find yourself changing narrators and points of view on each page. It didn’t confuse me necessarily it just seemed either lazy or erratic or both. Why not pick one method of writing? I’m not sure what he was going for here but I didn’t love it.
The ending was a nice touch, but it also felt slapped on. I can’t really go into much detail because of spoilers (and this is a fairly new release so I’d feel especially guilty doing so), but Eve’s ending seems to counter everything the book was trying to say. Brendan in the end didn’t feel like someone who’d really understood why he had failed before and what had cost him his friendships. In his defense he is only 19 years old so he still has time to grow up. I don’t require growth and change in characters in books but it’s definitely something I like to read about when someone needs it so much. Brendan definitely needs work. Maybe Perrotta will revisit him in another novel about a 30- or 40- something manchild as he is wont to do.