Little Childrenby Tom Perrotta
Tom Perrotta's thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch. There's Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed "The Prom King" by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah's husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a
Tom Perrotta's thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch. There's Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed "The Prom King" by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah's husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a fantasy life on the internet than with the flesh and blood in his own house; and Mary Ann, who thinks she has it all figured out, down to scheduling a weekly roll in the hay with her husband, every Tuesday at 9pm.
They all raise their kids in the kind of sleepy American suburb where nothing ever seems to happen-at least until one eventful summer, when a convicted child molester moves back to town, and two restless parents begin an affair that goes further than either of them could have imagined. Unexpectedly suspenseful, but written with all the fluency and dark humor of Perrotta's previous novels, Little Children exposes the adult dramas unfolding amidst the swingsets and slides of an ordinary American playground.
“Little Children offers a generous serving of laugh-out-loud moments... Perrotta is an astute student of 21st-century suburban life. He skewers--with a light touch--everything from book clubs to personal ads to mothers worried about getting their 4-year-olds into Harvard. At the same time he locates the humanity in even the most repugnant characters. Perrotta knows the white-picket fence dream is just that. Life is disappointing, sure, but a little bit of breezily sardonic humor goes a long way to ease the pain.” USA Today
“The voice is so key to what's so good about the book...Little Children is certainly Perrotta's most ambitious book...it marks a leap for Perrotta, a suggestion that there may be bigger books inside him. It is also that rarity, a book that understands the mature wisdom of compromise without denying any of the accompanying melancholy.” Charlie Taylor, salon.com
“Perrotta isn't breaking new ground when he reveals that American suburbs are petri dishes of ennui and alienation. But the he shows admirable zeal in prosecuting the case, and he comes as close as anybody to answering a not unimportant question: If the suburbs are the perfect community, the incarnation in grass and sunlight of American affluence, then how come life there is such hell?” Time Magazine
“In this satirical suburban novel...Perrotta's unsparing eye registers sullen teenage skateboarders, a vicious amateur football league and a women's book group discussing Madame Bovary over goat cheese and Chardonnay...readers will await the inevitable crash with horrified glee.” Newsweek Magazine
“The eponymous children in this satirical novel are actually adults who, chafing at the burdens of parenthood, try to re-create their unencumbered youth...The humor is sometimes cruel, but Perrotta never betrays the complexity of his characters.” The New Yorker
“Like the author's Election, this book tackles serious topics--like adultery and even pedophilia--with a surprisingly light tone.” US Weekly Magazine
“Big Important Book of the Month...Perrotta wisely refuses to condescend to the world he satirizes, and his masterful perspective provides the reader with a breezy omniscience over the character's failures in life. The book is disarmingly funny but rueful...the book's screenplay speed makes it infinitely readable. Little Children is a brave novel...engrossing, compassionate.” Esquire Magazine
“What a wicked joy it is to welcome Little Children, Tom Perrotta's extraordinary novel...a sterling comic contribution...raises the question of how a writer can be so entertainingly vicious and yet so full of fellow feeling. Bracingly tender moments stud Perrotta's satire...at once suspenseful, ruefully funny and ultimately generous...What is Tom Perrotta but an American Chekov whose characters even at their most ridiculous seem blessed and enobled by a luminous human aura?” Will Blythe, New York Times Book Review
“Little Children will be Mr. Perrotta's breakthough popular hit...poignantly funny...What distinguishes it from run-of-the-mill suburban satire is its knowing blend of slyness and compassion.” Janet Maslin, New York Times Review
“The cast is so real that book groups will have a blast comparing people they know to the ones in the book. Perrotta is that rare writer equally gifted at drawing people's emotional maps...and creating sidesplitting scenes. Suburban comedies don't come any sharper.” People Magazine
“Tom Perrotta's Little Children made me laugh so hard I had to put it down...an effervescent new work...a gentle, sparkling satire.” Entertainment Weekly
“With Little Children Perrotta has moved into the suburbs with a wrecking ball. He has cooked up recipes of depravity that would curl Betty Crocker's hair. If good satire can generate a corrective jolt, this may be a deadly shock.” Christian Science Monitor
“Darkly comic, with a mischievous eye for absurd and intimate detail...a virtuoso set.” Washington Post Review
“With this, his fifth book, Tom Perrotta has to be considered one of our true genius satirists. Little Children is a great book. Hilarious (I haven't laughed out loud so much over a book in years) but also deeply compassionate and, at times, terrifying. It's both an indictment of, and an elegy to, that odd sociological construct known as suburban America. I was enthralled by every page, and damn if I didn't find myself wishing I'd written it.” Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 4.28(w) x 6.67(h) x 0.92(d)
Read an Excerpt
By TOM PERROTTA
ST. MARTIN'S PRESSCopyright © 2004 Tom Perrotta
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBAD MOMMY
THE YOUNG MOTHERS WERE TELLING EACH OTHER HOW TIRED they were. This was one of their favorite topics, along with the eating, sleeping, and defecating habits of their offspring, the merits of certain local nursery schools, and the difficulty of sticking to an exercise routine. Smiling politely to mask a familiar feeling of desperation, Sarah reminded herself to think like an anthropologist. I'm a researcher studying the behavior of boring suburban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself.
"Jerry and I started watching that Jim Carrey movie the other night?"
This was Cheryl, mother of Christian, a husky three-and-a-half-year-old who swaggered around the playground like a Mafia chieftain, shooting the younger children with any object that could plausibly stand in as a gun-a straw, a half-eaten banana, even a Barbie doll that had been abandoned in the sandbox. Sarah despised the boy and found it hard to look his mother in the eye.
"The Pet Guy?" inquired Mary Ann, mother of Troy and Isabelle. "I don't get it. Since when did passing gas become so hilarious?"
Only since there was human life on earth, Sarah thought, wishing she had the guts to say it out loud. Mary Ann was one of those depressing supermoms, a tiny, elaborately made-up woman who dressed in spandex workout clothes, drove an SUV the size of a UPS van, and listened to conservative talk radio all day. No matter how many hints Sarah dropped to the contrary, Mary Ann refused to believe that any of the other mothers thought any less of Rush Limbaugh or any more of Hillary Clinton than she did. Every day Sarah came to the playground determined to set her straight, and every day she chickened out.
"Not the Pet Guy," Cheryl said. "The state trooper with the split personality."
Me, Myself, and Irene, Sarah thought impatiently. By the Farrelly Brothers. Why was it that the other mothers could never remember the titles of anything, not even movies they'd actually seen, while she herself retained lots of useless information about movies she wouldn't even dream of watching while imprisoned on an airplane, not that she ever got to fly anywhere?
"Oh, I saw that," said Theresa, mother of Courtney. A big, raspy-voiced woman who often alluded to having drunk too much wine the night before, Theresa was Sarah's favorite of the group. Sometimes, if no one else was around, the two of them would sneak a cigarette, trading puffs like teenagers and making subversive comments about their husbands and children. When the others arrived, though, Theresa immediately turned into one of them. "I thought it was cute."
Of course you did, Sarah thought. There was no higher praise at the playground than cute. It meant harmless. Easily absorbed. Posing no threat to smug suburbanites. At her old playground, someone had actually used the c-word to describe American Beauty (not that she'd actually named the film; it was that thing with Kevin what's-his-name, you know, with the rose petals). That had been the last straw for Sarah. After exploring her options for a few days, she had switched to the Rayburn School playground, only to find that it was the same wherever you went. All the young mothers were tired. They all watched cute movies whose titles they couldn't remember.
"I was enjoying it," Cheryl said. "But fifteen minutes later, Jimmy and I were both fast asleep."
"You think that's bad?" Theresa laughed. "Mike and I were having sex the other night, and I drifted off right in the middle of it."
"Oh, well." Cheryl chuckled sympathetically. "It happens." "I guess," said Theresa. "But when I woke up and apologized, Mike said he hadn't even noticed."
"You know what you should do?" Mary Ann suggested. "Set aside a specific block of time for making love. That's what Lewis and I do. Every Tuesday night at nine."
Whether you want to or not, Sarah thought, her eyes straying over to the play structure. Her daughter was standing near the top of the slide, sucking on the back of her hand as Christian pummeled Troy and Courtney showed Isabelle her Little Mermaid underpants. Even at the playground, Lucy didn't interact much with the other kids. She preferred to hang back, observing the action, as if trying to locate a seam that would permit her to enter the social world. A lot like her mother, Sarah thought, feeling both sorry for her daughter and perversely proud of their connection.
"What about you?" It took Sarah a moment to realize that Cheryl was talking to her.
"Me?" A surprisingly bitter laugh escaped from her mouth. "Richard and I haven't touched each other for months."
The other mothers traded uncomfortable looks, and Sarah realized that she must have misunderstood. Theresa reached across the picnic table and patted her hand.
"She didn't mean that, honey. She was just asking if you were as tired as the rest of us."
"Oh," said Sarah, wondering why she always had so much trouble following the thread of a conversation. "I doubt it. I've never needed very much sleep."
Morning snack time was ten-thirty on the dot, a regimen established and maintained by Mary Ann, who believed that rigid adherence to a timetable was the key to effective parenting. She had placed glow-in-the-dark digital clocks in her children's rooms, and had instructed them not to leave their beds in the morning until the first number had changed to seven. She also bragged of strictly enforcing a 7 P.M. bedtime with no resistance from the kids, a claim that filled Sarah with both envy and suspicion. She had never identified with authority figures, and couldn't help sensing a sort of whip-cracking fascist glee behind Mary Ann's ability to make the trains run on time.
Still, as skeptical as she was of fanatical punctuality in general, Sarah had to admit that the kids seemed to find it reassuring. None of them complained about waiting or being hungry, and they never asked what time it was. They just went about the business of their morning play, confident that they'd be notified when the proper moment arrived. Lucy seemed especially grateful for this small gift of predictability in her life. Sarah could see the pleasure in her eyes when she came running over to the picnic table with the others, part of the pack for the first time all day.
"Mommy, Mommy!" she cried. "Snack time!"
Of course, no system is foolproof, Sarah thought, rummaging through the diaper bag for the rice cakes she could have sworn she'd packed before they left the house. But maybe that was yesterday? It wasn't that easy to tell one weekday from the next anymore; they all just melted together like a bag of crayons left out in the sun.
"Mommy?" An anxious note seeped into Lucy's voice. All the other kids had opened Ziploc bags and single-serving Tupperware containers, and were busy shoveling handfuls of Cheerios and Goldfish crackers into their mouths. "Where my snack?"
"I'm sure it's in here somewhere," Sarah told her.
Long after she had come to the conclusion that the rice cakes weren't there, Sarah kept digging through the diaper bag, pretending to search for them. It was a lot easier to keep staring into that dark jumble of objects than to look up and tell Lucy the truth. In the background she heard someone slurping the dregs of a juice box.
"Where it went?" the hard little voice demanded. "Where my snack?"
It took an act of will for Sarah to look up and meet her daughter's eyes.
"I'm sorry, honey." She let out a long, defeated sigh. "Mommy can't find it."
Lucy didn't argue. She just scrunched up her pale face, clenched her fists, and began to hyperventilate, gathering strength for the next phase of the operation. Sarah turned apologetically to the other mothers, who were watching the proceedings with interest.
"I forgot the rice cakes," Sarah explained. "I must have left them on the counter."
"Poor thing," said Cheryl.
"That's the second time this week," Mary Ann pointed out.
You hateful bitch, Sarah thought.
"It's hard to keep track of everything," observed Theresa, who had supplied Courtney with a tube of Go-gurt and a box of raisins.
Sarah turned to Lucy, who was emitting a series of whimpers that were slowly increasing in volume.
"Just calm down," Sarah pleaded.
"No!" Lucy shouted. "No calm down!"
"That'll be enough of that, young lady."
"Bad mommy! I want snack!"
"It's not here," Sarah said, handing her daughter the diaper bag. "See for yourself."
Fixing her mother with an evil glare, Lucy promptly turned the bag upside down, releasing a cascade of Pampers, baby wipes, loose change, balled-up Kleenex, books, and toys onto the wood-chip-covered ground.
"Sweetie." Sarah spoke calmly, pointing at the mess. "Clean that up, please."
"I ... want ... my ... snack!" Lucy gasped.
With that, the dam broke, and she burst into piteous tears, a desolate animal wailing that even made the other kids turn and look, as if realizing they were in the presence of a virtuoso and might be able to pick up a few pointers.
"Poor thing," Cheryl said again.
Other mothers know what to do at moments like this, Sarah thought. They'd all read the same book or something. Were you supposed to ignore a tantrum and let the kid "cry herself out"? Or were you supposed to pick her up and remind her that she was safe and well loved? It seemed to Sarah that she'd heard both recommendations at one time or another. In any case, she knew that a good parent would take some sort of clearheaded action. A good parent wouldn't just stand there feeling clueless and guilty while her child howled at the sky.
"Wait." It was Mary Ann who spoke, her voice radiating such undeniable adult authority that Lucy immediately broke off crying, willing to hear her out. "Troy, honey? Give Lucy your Goldfish."
Troy was understandably offended by this suggestion. "No," he said, turning so that his body formed a barrier between Lucy and his snack.
"Troy Jonathan." Mary Ann held out her hand. "Give me those Goldfish."
"But Mama," he whimpered. "It's mine."
"No backtalk. You can share with your sister."
Reluctantly, but without another word of protest, Troy surrendered the bag. Mary Ann immediately bestowed it upon Lucy, whose face broke into a slightly hysterical smile.
"Thank you," Sarah told Mary Ann. "You're a lifesaver."
"It's nothing," Mary Ann replied. "I just hate to see her suffer like that."
Not that they would, but if any of the other mothers had asked how it was that Sarah, of all people, had ended up married, living in the suburbs, and caring full-time for a small child, she would have blamed it all on a moment of weakness. At least that was how she described it to herself, though the explanation always seemed a bit threadbare. After all, what was adult life but one moment of weakness piled on top of another? Most people just fell in line like obedient little children, doing exactly what society expected of them at any given moment, all the while pretending that they'd actually made some sort of choice.
But the thing was, Sarah considered herself an exception. She had discovered feminism her sophomore year in college-this was back in the early nineties, when a lot of undergraduate women were moving in the opposite direction-and the encounter had left her profoundly transformed. After just a few weeks of Intro to Women's Studies, Sarah felt like she'd been given the key to understanding so many things that were wrong with her life-her mother's persistent depression, her own difficulty making and keeping female friends, the alienation she sometimes felt from her own body. Sarah embraced Critical Gender Studies with the fervor of a convert, taking from it the kind of comfort other women in her dorm seemed to derive from shopping or step aerobics.
She enlisted at the Women's Center and spent the second half of her college career in the thick of a purposeful, socially aware, politically active community of women. She volunteered at the Rape Crisis Hotline, marched in Take Back the Night rallies, learned to distinguish between French and Anglo-American feminism(s). By senior year, she had cut her hair short, stopped shaving her legs, and begun attending Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual dances and social events. Two months before graduation, she dove headlong into a passionate affair with a Korean-American woman named Amelia, who was headed for med school in New York City in the fall. It was a thrilling time for Sarah, the perfect culmination to her undergraduate voyage of self-discovery.
And then-suddenly and with astonishing finality-college was over. Amelia moved back to Westchester to spend the summer with her family. Sarah stayed in Boston, taking a job at Starbucks to pay the rent while she figured out what to do next. They visited each other twice that summer, but for some reason couldn't recapture what had so recently been an effortless rhythm of togetherness. On the day before Sarah was supposed to visit her in her new dorm, Amelia called and said maybe it would be best if they didn't see each other anymore. Medical school was overwhelming; she didn't have the space in her life for a relationship.
Sarah had nothing in her life but space, but she didn't get involved with anyone else for almost a year, and when she did it was with a man, a charismatic barista who did stand-up comedy and said he liked everything about her but her hairy legs. So Sarah started shaving again, got fitted for a diaphragm, and spent a lot of time in comedy clubs, listening to tired jokes about the difference between men (they won't ask for directions!) and women (they want to talk after sex!). When she tried to explain her objections to humor based on sexist stereotypes, Ryan suggested that she extract the metal rod from her ass and lighten up a little.
Along with dumping Ryan, applying to graduate school seemed like the perfect solution for escaping the rut she was in-a way to recapture the excitement of college while also making a transition into a recognizable version of adulthood. She cultivated an image of herself as a young professor, a feminist film critic, perhaps. She would be a mentor and an inspiration to girls like herself, the quiet ones who'd sleepwalked their way through high school, knowing nothing except that they couldn't possibly be happy with any of the choices the world seemed to be offering them.
Within a couple of weeks of starting the Ph.D. program, though, she discovered that she'd booked passage on a sinking ship. There aren't any jobs, the other students informed her; the profession's glutted with tenured old men who won't step aside for the next generation.
Excerpted from LITTLE CHILDREN by TOM PERROTTA Copyright © 2004 by Tom Perrotta. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Tom Perrotta is the author of Bad Haircut, The Wishbones, Election, and Joe College. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.
- Belmont, Massachusetts
- Date of Birth:
- August 13, 1961
- Place of Birth:
- Summit, New Jersey
- B.A. in English, Yale University, 1983; M.A. in English/Creative Writing, Syracuse University, 1988
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A guy wrote this book? Hmmm... I liked the story but was trying not too because of the "cheating" message. I don't like the idea of people thinking this could actually happen but it was a good book. This is the story of Todd (a stay at home dad) who meets Sarah (a mom) at a local playground. Sarah's husband, Richard is more into the internet sex fantasies he is having rather than his family and Kathy (Todd's wife) is jealous that she can't stay home. This book was hard to put down. I wanted Sarah to leave her husband before she met Todd.
I started reading this book to distract myself before taking my grad school comprehensive exams and did not put it down until I had finished the whole thing in one day. I liked how multi-dimensional the characters were, and how it was hard to try and fit them into a mold (I tried when I first started reading it; the bored wife, the jock, the child molester, but they always kept changing). The plot itself always kept moving, and I liked how it would leave you hanging on one story, talk about another story, and then come back to it to build the tension.
while not an outstanding example of literature, the author develops his characters very well in this 300 page book. the characters in this book are unlikeable and the subject matter is unlikeable but somehow 'little children' will bring great discussion for a book club group and it will be liked.
i heard so much positive feedback from people who have read little children or had heard thru the grapevine, that i was actually excited to read it. i soon realized my expectations were too high. it was readable , but not consuming.it bored me. i couldn't wait to be done with it.
I found the characters in this book so annoying I counldn't finish it. The more I read the more irritated I became with these characters. Perhaps that was the authors intention but it doesn't make for pleasant reading
I bought this book because of the many 5 star reviews, but was disappointed. Mediocre read, cliched characters, obligatory underdog-team-beats-top-team sports event, yawn. Yuppie romantic crisis, yawn. Passes the time, but characters neither intrigue nor stir the reader's emotions. Glad when I finished it.
I am not interested in flawless heroic characters, but thought this book took selfish characters to a new level. Excellent representation of people I knew while living in cities, but not representative of my suburban experience at all. I did not find the satirical elements very sharp, and thought there were too many plot crutches used to further the story. Complex character development might have made the effort more worthwhile.
I thought I would be drawn to this book because I'm a 30ish year old suburban parent of young kids. Although, I finished this book in 6 hours on a Saturday night, I found it sad and disturbing that our American Society have way too many people who can relate to these selfish characters, basically lost in life and purpose, and especially lacking in parenting skills. There were a couple moments where I laughed because of some of the sterotypes Perrota described are soo true. I was hoping to read an amazing ending, but that didn't realize at the end. Despite that, Perrota's command of writing is actually quite enjoyable.
The premise of this book seemed so promising, but ended up being really predictable. The story did have some colorful characters which obviously transferred well to the big screen. Maybe that was Perotta's idea to begin with. The characterization of the playgroup commando mom's was pretty funny and sadly, accurate. But overall, the book was full of very selfish people who put aside their parenting. This book was a good way to spend time at the beach without having to think too much.
This was an entertaining read. It's a good page turner with interesting story lines. I didn't give it a 5 because it's not among the best literature I've read, but it's definately worth a read.
This story has rich characters, prose, and a great plot. I was so impressed with Perrotta. He sucked me in with the voice of his characters from the first page. And the way he changed my sympathies toward the different characters throughout the novel was astonishing. Also, his voice was so objective...he didn't say what was right or wrong and he portrayed each character fairly...displaying their positive and negative qualities without judgment. Finally, the title is fabulous. I thought about the title throughout the book and tried to apply it to the characters and plot. I personally loved the ending...the last paragraph is beautifully written and I love that it doesn't wrap everything up in a nice little package...it stayed true to the themes and characters.
I read reviews of this book, both good and bad, I thought it would be something I would truly enjoy. The drama between Todd and Sarah was what I thought I needed to read. However, I found the story lacking. I needed to believe that Todd and Sarah would indeed both come to their senses and make their marriages work. Having enjoyed their little fling, they would realize that infidelity didn't fullfill all their needs. The relationship between the ex-felon and his mother was simply disturbing to me. He is degrading to her and she keeps coming back for more, ever hopeful he will repent and become the person she wants him to be. Not one of the characters marriage's were ideal. Maybe that was the author's intent. To show the reader that no marriage is perfect, you can be easygoing, or plan everything out, but you can't control the other person. I found myself skimming the last few chapters just so I could have closure for the characters and move on to another book. I am sure some people will like the way the chapters switch from one character to another, I found it distracting.
I've been a fan of this movie for quite some time and finally decided to read the book. Both are excellent, although, naturally I wish I had read the book first. I'm a pretty slow reader and this book is such an easy read; it went by almost too quickly. It's the first Tom Perrotta book I've read, but I feel the need to read more now.
nothing really stood out in this book, other than the characterizations - suburbia must be a lot duller than I remember it
This book was written through the perspective of multiple characters, which is a great way to follow and understand the story line.
Unfortunately, the story was beliveable because some of it happens in everyday society.
The cover didn't really make too much sense to me either. It would have been better if it was a picture of a swing set from the park.
Read the book BEFORE you see the movie. I felt that the movie was a bit flat in comparison to the book.
I really expected this book to be special, especially when I heard about the movie and saw the great reviews given to it. I just didn't think the story was that interesting. The story seems to be about a bunch of people trapped in unhappy marriages or bored with their lives. Well, isn't that what happens sometimes, as we get older? I found it very sad to read about these people just longing for more when I think most of the characters had a lot to be thankful for to start with. Just making excuses to play around if you ask me.
I wanted to read the book after hearing great hype over the movie. Story was entertaining and I couldn't put it down simply because I wanted to see how it ended. I did think that there were large parts of the book that went on and on in endless circles. Do yourself a favor and skip most of the football game chapters.
I could not put down this wonderful book. Perrotta named the sad and at times frustrating truth of life in the suburbs and the difficulty modern men and women have growing up. Every person in the book is a little child--and struggles to discover what it means to grow up. I recognized myself and others and felt like we were seen, named, but not despised. Perrotta has a gift for taking you into his characters and his scenes so that you feel you are right there.
I liked this book. Good movie too