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Mrs. Fletcher: A Novel Hardcover – August 1, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of August 2017: Tom Perrotta’s latest is about a recent empty nester, struggling with this alien status and desperate for a distraction, when a very saucy one is served-up anonymously on her phone. No, it's not a message from Anthony Weiner, but it is something that piques Mrs. Fletcher's interest to such a degree that she becomes obsessed with a certain "adult site" and suddenly her sleepy suburban existence is sleepy no more. Meanwhile her son, whose clueless moments of Neanderthalism are proving a liability with the college ladies, is trying to find his footing in life too. Right off the bat you know that Mrs. Fletcher is going to veer into awkward territory, and it does have its cringe-worthy moments (which I think Perrotta inflicts with glee). But these characters are so expertly drawn that it’s easy to relate to, and sympathize with, their bumbling attempts at working through existential crises (unintentionally hilarious, and even shocking these efforts may be). The secondary characters are just as strong, and refreshingly unexpected. When Mrs. Fletcher’s ex-husband is introduced, you find out that he left her for a younger model he courted on Craigslist, and you think...Of course! But he’s actually not what you think at all, nor is his new wife. These are ordinary people making life-changing mistakes at a time when they should be (mostly) grown up. That’s the thing, though--no matter where we are in life--we always have growing to do...Perrotta, ever the provocateur, ties up a narrative loose end by creating yet another in the end. It’s something that will needle at you, in an uncomfortably good way. Such is Mrs. Fletcher. --Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review
PRAISE FOR MRS. FLETCHER:
""Mrs. Fletcher," Perrotta’s seventh novel and first since 2011’s "The Leftovers," operates and succeeds in ways that will be pleasingly familiar to his admirers. It uses a fecund premise, a large cast of recognizable characters, a rotating point of view, a propulsive plot, a humane vision and clean, non-ostentatious ... prose to explore a fraught cultural topic. There be dragons, yes, but decency mitigates the danger. “Mrs. Fletcher” is the sweetest and most charming novel about pornography addiction and the harrowing issues of sexual consent that you will probably ever read."
—The New York Times Book Review
"[Perrotta] explores the redefining of American sex lives by technology. . . . Mrs. Fletcher is a wry, compassionate novel about the ramifications of porn filtering so effortlessly into mainstream culture, without hysteria or accusations. Perrotta [is] well-versed in capturing the manifold follies and fetishes of human behavior. . . . One of the sharpest elements of Mrs. Fletcher is how Perrotta presents two opposing forces colliding on campus: porn culture and PC culture."
"At times morbidly funny and, at others, grim, “Mrs. Fletcher” signals a return to familiar territory for Mr. Perrotta — sex, school and suburbia ... While “Mrs. Fletcher” may sound, from a plot summary, like an R-rated comedy or the outline for a raunchy Judd Apatow movie, it is more melancholy than many of his earlier books. Sex and pornography often serve as shorthand for characters’ loneliness and their search for self-worth."
—The New York Times
"Light, zingy, and laugh-out-loud funny."
"Satisfying, wise and deeply appealing, flying by in a day or two of nonstop immersion, and in Eve's character it has true insight into the strangeness of all those anonymous American suburbs — the simultaneous comfort and loneliness of a generic place, a common life."
—The Chicago Tribune
"Sublimely funny ... in this shimmeringly satisfying novel, Perrotta uses the sense of loneliness like a propeller, raising these characters into glorious flight if they can just let themselves trust they have wings."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Raunchy, hilarious, and unexpectedly sweet ... [Perrotta's] latest might just be his best — it's a stunning and audacious book, and Perrotta never lets his characters take the easy way out. Uncompromisingly obscene but somehow still kind-hearted, Mrs. Fletcher is one for the ages."
"The sinews of Perrotta’s fiction, rather, are the tensions within and between characters, tensions that he steadily and artfully amplifies until the reader becomes possessed by curiosity about how they’ll be resolved ... "Mrs. Fletcher" is lit up by flashes of acute observation."
—The New Yorker
"[A] fantastic tease ... [Perrotta] knows how to capture the hilarious contradictions of teenagers."
—The Washington Post
"Perrotta has been called the “Steinbeck of suburbia” and an “American Chekhov,” but with Mrs. Fletcher, he’s become the Jane Austen of 21st century sexual mores ... [Mrs. Fletcher is] a delicious, tragicomic and finally forgiving take on the mistakes we modern people can’t seem to stop making. Mrs. Fletcher is a delight."
"Sublimely funny ... shimmeringly satisfying ... Perrotta is astute about complex social problems, including how well a mother and grown son can understand one another, what it means to be transgender and lonely, what our sexual mores really mean, and how anyone different — whether autistic or sexually fluid — can find a comfortable place in a confusing world."
—San Antonio Express-News
"Mrs. Fletcher is an intelligent novel that weaves together all the old issues about relationships along with contemporary issues of identity ... Perrotta expertly explores sexual identity, gender, pornography, and sex. This is a novel about overcoming ignorance. It urges readers to take advantage of opportunities for self-analysis and enlightenment. We must listen to each other’s stories."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
"Perrotta’s eye for contemporary mores and social details remains razor-sharp ... More spot-on satire with heart and soul from a uniquely gifted writer."
“From the thrill of learning of its existence, to the feverish turning of pages, to the contemplative afterglow that comes from having finished: there’s nothing like a new Tom Perrotta novel. Mrs. Fletcher is all you dream it will be: hilarious, provocative (a little too), relatable, and every moment a joy ride.”
—Maria Semple, bestselling author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Today Will Be Different
“Tom Perrotta has always been a smart, fearless writer, a wet-your-pants-funny satirist who will in the very next sentence ambush you with genuine emotion. Buckle your seat belt and surrender your dignity, because Mrs. Fletcher is a romp.”
—Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Empire Falls
PRAISE FOR TOM PERROTTA:
“Tom Perrotta is a truth-telling, unshowy chronicler of modern-day America."
—New York Times Book Review
"Tom Perrotta writes with a satirist's ear and the heart of a romantic."
"Perrotta is that rare combination: a satirist with heart…Those who haven't curled up on the couch with this writer's books are missing a very great pleasure."
“He's the Steinbeck of suburbia.”
"Our Balzac of the burbs."
—Chicago Sun Times
"An American Chekov."
—New York Times Book Review
"...Prose so affable that the pages keep turning without hesitation. With Perrotta at the controls, you buy the set-up and sit back as he takes off.”
—Chicago Sun Times
"Tom Perrotta has to be considered one of our true genius satirists."
—Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River
"Perrotta [is] funny and deeply touching... A writer who's here for the long haul."
Top customer reviews
Eve Fletcher works in a community center for the elderly, a fertile source for Tom Perrotta’s brand of comedy. Eve’s self-absorbed son Brendan is off to college, leaving behind his self-absorbed girlfriend after breaking up with her by text. For a few years, Eve has been divorced from her selfish husband Ted, who left her after meeting a Casual Encounter on Craigslist. Eve is now preparing for an empty nest by posting positive messages on her Facebook status and waiting for encouraging “likes” from her 221 friends. But Eve is needy and immediately feels abandoned, particularly when (after day 3) she stops receiving her promised daily text messages from Brendan. All of this motivates Eve's desire to leave her old self behind, a desire that manifests in sexual interests beyond her limited experience, as she considers sex with a young college student, sex with a woman, and sex in a threesome.
In the first part of the story, Perrotta alternates his focus between Eve and Brendan, telling Brendan’s story in the first person. Brendan’s introduction to college life gives Perrotta a chance to show off his ear for youthful dialog. Brendan’s college goals are to party as much as possible, study as little as possible, and get a degree (maybe in Econ) that will allow him to earn six figures as soon as possible. As his college advisor tells him, “Good luck with that.”
Where Eve’s life has changed by becoming an empty nester and Brendan’s has changed by losing the security of living at home, a third changed life is represented in Amanda Olney, the activities director in the senior center where Eve works. Unlike Eve, who has learned to fulfill her needs by surfing porn, Amanda hooks up for one night stands that make her feel good at the time but sad the next day. The novel eventually turns into a romp as the characters pair up in expected ways to engage in unconventional acts.
Perrotta’s socially observant humor shines in his depiction of Eve’s gender studies class (an evening class that gets her out of her house) and her emerging interest in MILF pornography; the casual racism and homophobia of seniors who are stuck in the 1950s; the tribulations of middle-age dating (and the dilemma faced by women of a certain age whose standards for men exceed their ability to attract those men); and Brendan’s politically incorrect cluelessness about women.
The story’s mildly serious elements include Brendan’s autistic half-brother; Brendan’s jealousy at the relationship his father has forged with his new family; the social construction of gender; the judgmental social convention of “age appropriate” relationships; high school bullying; the inability to let go of insignificant marital grievances; and the difficulty of moving forward after making a bad decision about life.
All of that comes together in a playful novel that is fun to read even if follows a formula that leads to predictable outcomes. Characters will do something foolish, learn a lesson from their foolish behavior, and perhaps find true romance in unexpected places. The novel flirts with unconventional thought while taking few chances, but it delivers the laughter and familiar insights that Perrotta fans expect.
It's not as if "empty nest" means an empty life. Eve has a satisfying job as the executive director of a senior center. She has friends and interacts daily with her staff and with the seniors who come to the center, but she definitely feels that something is missing.
She signs up at the local community college to take a course on Gender and Society at night. The course is taught by a fascinating transgender instructor and the other students are an interesting mixed bag of personalities and life experiences at all stages of life. Eve becomes engrossed in new avenues of thought that are opened up for her by the course.
At some point, after Brendan leaves for college, she receives an anonymous text message: “U R my MILF!” Who would have sent her such a message and why?
Thinking of MILFs leads her into thinking of porn and soon she finds herself watching porn on the internet every night. She is especially obsessed with a particular lesbian MILF site. She can't stop watching! She is quickly becoming addicted to web porn and her fixation threatens to spill over into her real life in unexpected and embarrassing ways.
Meanwhile, Brendan, the jock and aspiring frat-boy, is finding that college does not live up to his sex-crazed expectations. He was expecting to pursue a hard partying lifestyle, but a few weeks into the college year, he finds himself lost at sea. He is floundering in all of his classes and he finds that his attitude of smug white-dude privilege and chauvinistic ideas about sex do not find favor with the female students with whom he comes in contact.
In short, as the autumn progresses, both mother and son must face the consequences of bad decisions and mistakes they have made.
Perrotta presents his characters' conundrums with a wry humor along with sharp social commentary. He deals with the various permutations of sexuality and identity with a provocative and always witty frankness.
This is, on one level, a very funny book, but it is much more than that. Perrotta gives us an unflinching look at some of the darker corners of modern society and how we deal with our fellow men/women/humans. And even as he presents his perspectives with humor, he leaves us with a lot to ponder in our more sober moments.
Overall, I found this to be a quick read, because once I got started, it was hard to put down. I was completely engaged by the story.