I had two books due on my last library visit, both unread. I returned Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but something told me to keep Little Children by Tom Perrotta. I'm glad I did. I just finished it tonight.
Little Children is a very well-written book. I didn't realize that he was also the author of Election and Joe College. Based on this book, I'll definitely be checking out the others.
The book, which was recently made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Kate Winslet (choices which I wholeheartedly support after reading the book), is set in a suburban Massachusetts town and documents the long, hot summer in the lives of several people in their early 30s. Sarah is a former women's studies major, former Starbucks employee and ABD who is surprised to find herself the stay-at-home mother of a three-year-old. Her husband, Richard, is much older than she is and is on his second marriage but prefers the company of his favorite webmistress, Slutty Kay, to his wife and daughter. Todd is a stay-at-home dad who is attempting to pass the bar exam on his third try. His secret is that he hasn't studied for months and doesn't want to be a lawyer anymore. His wife, Kathy, is a documentary filmmaker for PBS, but their financial issues, plus Todd's lack of motivation, is creating some serious strain on their marriage. Sarah and Todd meet at the playground, and begin an affair.
Mirroring their stories are that of Larry and Ronald, each a poignant reminder that there is always someone worse off than you. Larry had been a cop until he shot a teenager who was pointing what proved to be a toy gun at him. Now, he's retired due to PTSD stemming from the incident, and his marriage is disintegrating too. The presence of convicted child molester and all-around loser Ronald in the community has given Larry a frightening degree of focus: he devotes most of his time to driving by the house Ronald lives in with his aging mother and honking the horn, passing out fliers warning others about Ronald, spraying graffiti on the house, and leaving the occasional flaming bag of dog shit on the porch. Ronald is deeply depressed, after failing to find a job, being shunned by everyone but his mother, going on a disastrous date with a woman close to his own age, and fighting off his sexual proclivity towards younger children.
The story doesn't exactly end the way you hope, but by giving you a glimpse into each character's psyche, Perrotta manages to transform each one into a sympathetic person, shaped by circumstances larger than themselves. Even caricature supermom Mary Ann, in the final pages of the book, shocks readers by turning into a real person, bewildered at where she wound up, unhappy to be so far away from what she'd always imagined. In the end, that's what the book's all about: not choice, but the lack thereof, the way life makes its own plans and all you can do is bob along. Yet, for all of that, it's not a depressing book. The early pages, in particular, actually made me laugh out loud. I give this one a high recommendation. It's the perfect mix of seriousness and fun, exactly what you want as the weather's still nice but the end of the summer is beginning to close in.