Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Depresing Take on Modern Life

Last Friday, while my sister met with her graduate advisor, I waited in the monastic, Hogwartsesque hub of her campus and read. The meeting took much longer than she expected, so I started and finished Tom Perrotta's Election while I waited.

I mentioned before that I really liked Little Children but didn't much care for Joe College. I was looking for Election to provide the judgement on whether or not I am a Tom Perrotta fan. I'm still not sure.

I'd seen the movie, with Reese Witherspoon, before I was even aware it was a book. Having read the book, I wonder why they made some of the major changes that they did. Basically, this is a book about a history teacher who decides to throw the election for class president. Tracy Flick (Witherspoon) is what "Rate Your Students" would call a "super-keener": all ruthless ambition and perkiness, every teacher's pet, Miss Extra-Curricular, you get it. The history teacher in question (this was a week and a half ago, we're just going to call him "John") is a believer in democracy and American history, popular among the students for his discussion-style classes, but also facing somewhat of a crisis in his marriage at home.

I think this is a book about the thin veneers of most people's lives. Tracy, on the surface, doesn't have any demons, yet something led her to seek out a father figure/lover in John's best friend and now former colleague. Along the same lines, John seems like a happy person, but is miserable with the way his marriage seems to have deteriorated into the quest for a baby. The alternate candidate that John recruits for the presidency seems aimless and accepting, affable and brainless, a likeable guy because he's nice to everyone and does exactly what they want him to, yet he makes a big rebellion within his family dynamic and a small stand in the privacy of the voting booth that turns out to affect the whole election. His sister Tammy, to most people, is probably just a willfully angsty teen, but her angst actually has a very real source that (sadly) probably won't work itself out until she goes to college, if then.

I called this post "Another Depressing Take on Modern Life," mostly thinking of the panicy, trapped misery of Little Children and the amoral landscape inhabited by Joe College. But compared with those two, this one is actually pretty cheerful. It ends on a more hopeful note. While none of the characters can exactly be called happy, they've at least made a start, and learned from the experiences, not in a cheesy, Oprah-like way, but in a real way.

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