Election: A Novel by Tom Perrotta
GP Putnam’s Sons, 1st edition, 1998
Genre: Satire, literary fiction
A suburban New Jersey high school teacher confronts a student body election gone haywire, in this darkly comic novel by the author of The Wishbones.
Who really cares who gets elected president of Winwood High School? Nobody–except Tracy Flick. Tracy’s one of those students of boundless energy and ambition who somehow find the time to do everything–edit the school paper and yearbook, star in the musical, sleep with her favorite teacher. Tracy’s heart is set on becoming president of Winwood, and whatever Tracy wants, Tracy gets. What’s more, her classmates seem to agree. With weeks to go before election day, her victory is nearly a foregone conclusion.
And that’s just the problem, according to Mr M aka Jim McAllister, faculty adviser tot he Student Government Association and a popular Winwood history teacher. In the name of democracy–not to mention a simmering grudge against Tracy Flick–Mr M recruits the perfect opposition candidate. Paul Warren is a golden boy, a football hero with a brain and a heart, eager to bulk up his meager resume. But the clear-cut two-way race is muddled when Paul’s younger sister unexpectedly enters the competition. Running on a platform of apathy, Tammy Warren is an anonymous sophomore, struggling with her sexuality and mourning the defection of her best friend Lisa, who has abandoned their friendship to become Paul’s campaign manager and girlfriend.
As Winwood High experiences election fever, Mr M is distracted by a sudden attraction to his wife’s best friend. The two dramas he has created–one personal and private, the other public and political–unfurl simultaneously, with all the players haring a life-altering conclusion.
Part satire, part soap opera, Election is an uncommon look at an ordinary American high school and the extraordinary people who inhabit it.
Book Report:I saw Election shortly after it came out on video (I was working at Hollywood Video then, and saw just about everything), and loved it from the start. I even purchased my own used copy from work (on VHS!) because it seemed to me to be the kind of movie I could enjoy any time–and I also wanted to be able to share it with others. That was back in 1999, and I had no idea till I read Little Children that it was based on a novel. (Or did I? I sometimes forget things, amazing as that might sound. I don’t believe I knew it was a novel.) Read the rest of this entry »
Little Children by Tom Perrotta
St. Martin’s Press, 1st edition, 2004
Genre: Satire, literary fiction
Synopsis & Review: After dropping out of grad school, Sarah dove into a quick marriage with an older, divorced man simply because she couldn’t bear her loneliness any longer. And at the novel’s start, she finds herself observing the other mothers with their children, desperately trying to distance herself from their suburban ordinariness. She reminds herself to think like an anthropologist in a phrase which perfectly encapsulates Sarah’s problems: “I’m a researcher studying the behavior of boring suburban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself.” Sarah doesn’t love her husband, having settled for him, and her small daughter seems like a stranger, an inexplicable stranger. She cannot seem to get motherhood “right” as it is dictated by her peers in the park who have mastered the intricacies of napping, strollers, and snack time, and so Sarah flounders.
So enter the Prom King. Todd is a stay at home dad (SAHD), already unusual in this sheltered little world, but even more unusually, he is handsome, throwing the mothers into a fluster whenever he appears. Though they enjoy the titillation of his proximity, they also resent him because they feel they need to be pretty for his appearances. Mary Ann, the most domineering and conservative of the mothers, dares Sarah to approach Todd and get his number. And when Sarah does, things … change. They kiss. Something begins.
Though his background differs entirely from Sarah’s, being filled with football games, popularity, and frat parties, Todd suffers from much of the same malaise. He stays home with his son Aaron while his lovely wife Kathy works as a documentarian, supporting the family just until Todd passes the bar exam and becomes a lawyer who will rake in enough cash for them to live comfortably. Rather than study for his third try at the bar (no JFK Jr jokes, please), Todd spends his evenings watching skateboarders, envying their self-absorption (HINT HINT) and mourning his own rapidly disappearing youth. But Todd gets an opportunity to recapture his youthful glories on a brightly lit field when a former neighbor introduces him to an informal night football league, and again in Sarah’s worshipful admiration.
Elsewhere in the subdivision, a registered sex offender comes home to roost. Released from prison into his mother’s home, Ronnie McGorvey–convicted of exposing himself to a Girl Scout and widely believed to be responsible for the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl several years previous–brings a clandestine excitement to the community, which works itself into a frenzy of fear and rage at his presence. From flyers and town meetings to harassment and graffiti, Ronnie never stops being a focus for the anxieties of suburbia. His mother, however, thinks he just needs to settle down with a nice girl, and tries to set Ronnie up on dates. Ronnie’s appearance and subsequent ejection from the community pool, followed by a sudden rainstorm, becomes the catalyst that sends Sarah and Todd from mere flirtation and tentative friendship into adultery.
“Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” Those were Ma’s words when Laura announced that she and Almanzo wished to not delay their wedding. (About Laura’s choice of wedding dress, she said something like, “Marry in black, you’ll wish yourself back.” Ma wasn’t batting .300 in These Happy Golden Years.) However, Sarah in Tom Perrotta’s Little Children, proves Ma’s rule.
I watched Little Children first, and impressed, made a mental note to read the book. In January, with my nuptials fast approaching, I requested it from the MCL, but when I told my sisters that I’d read Revolutionary Road and meant to read Little Children (and The Group), they shouted “NO! BAD, NAUGHTY, STUPID GIRL!” and whacked me on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. I had my revenge, though: I made Eli watch it OnDemand late one night on our honeymoon. Nothing augurs a good marriage like that! Haha. So Little Children ended up being one of the first few books I read upon returning home and settling into a not very different life of marriage. Read the rest of this entry »