What do you think of when someone tells you a book is “ripe for book club discussion”? Does that kind of description make you roll your eyes or encourage you to dive right in? I personally hate the insinuation that certain books are “book club” books because it assumes that all book clubs are the same. Mine, of course, is the best book club in the world — but I think Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta is going to surprise people.
The name Mrs. Fletcher is sort of a play on Mrs. Robinson and The Graduate, because the protagonist and divorcee Eve ends up getting involved (let’s just keep it at that) with a younger man. She also dives headfirst into a mild porn addiction, all seemingly in response to the life-altering event which is her son’s recent move to college. Now, I know this book is starting to sound very risqué, and I’m sure my male readers are on their way to the bookstore right now. But I should mention that this book takes place mainly in the suburbs and it also deals with Eve’s thick-skulled son Brendan, so it’s not all sexy times and cocktails. Much to Brendan’s disappointment, college isn’t just an extension of high school and it’s not all about getting drunk and sleeping around. Interestingly, we read Eve’s chapters from a third person perspective and Brendan’s from first person, so we always know exactly what Brendan’s thinking, which is sort of depressing considering how shallow he is.
I really liked the mundane subject matter of this book. It deals almost wholly with the relationships people have with each other and with how our relationship with ourselves changes as move between life stages. This isn’t an action-packed plot but the dynamics between people are constantly changing, which makes for a quick and absorbing read. I also like the juxtaposition between two very different people: Eve and her son. Eve embarks on a life-changing path that begins with her enrolling in a class taught by a transgendered professor while Brendan bumbles his way through campus life trying to maintain the ignorant status-quo he’s relied on thus far.
The biggest surprise of the book is the amount of left-ish political viewpoints that are expressed in the small town campus he belongs to. Believe me, this isn’t a complaint; I was just taken aback by how politically correct Brendan’s peer group was. Just a few examples: he joins into a Michael Brown protest on campus because a girl he had a crush on was involved — that was right after we hear him complain about a bad mark he got on his writing assignment where he had to explain “What Does White Privilege Mean to Me?” This was shortly after he muses on the effects of climate change. I don’t recall my university experience looking like this but I find this development heartening nonetheless. These open-minded kids are juxtaposed with the seniors that Eve works with at her job and who are so disgusted with the idea of transgendered people that they label it as a mental illness. I’m sure Perrotta is using these as extremes and there is of course lots of space in the “grey zones” of these topics but I appreciate him raising these issues within the setting of the not-so-bland American suburbs.
About Tom Perrotta
Tom Perrotta is the bestselling author of eight works of fiction, including Election and Little Children, both of which were made into critically acclaimed movies, and The Leftovers, which was adapted into an HBO series. He lives outside Boston.
» Book Reviewer & Host Of Wordfest Bookclub: About Anne Logan
Anne Logan has worked in the Canadian publishing industry for 7 years and loved every minute of it. She reads a lot and I does not want to keep her opinions to myself, and so she reviews books.