Without bringing up the whole Lionel Shriver debate again (and Bill has the best summary of that), I fear Tom Perrotta was writing about stuff that he probably should have left alone in his latest novel, Mrs Fletcher.
In brief, it’s the story of Eve Fletcher, divorced, mother to Brendan and director of a seniors centre. Note that Brendan is a sexist, homophobic jock, who has no intention of changing his party-hard ways as he begins college.
To fill her empty evenings, Eve begins a community college class, Gender Studies, and befriends its transgender professor, Margo Fairchild. Around the same time, Eve gets an anonymous text message referring to her as a MILF, which prompts her to spend a vast amount of time trawling MILF-related online porn and to have lesbian fantasies about a co-worker (obviously).
There were lots of bits in this story that made me feel uneasy* but I’ll pick my top three. Firstly, the inclusion of a transgender character and her ‘sexual awakening’ with a student was cheap. Margo was cast in a thoughtless and tacky way and lines such as “What bathroom do you use?” made me cringe.
Secondly, for a supposedly intelligent, modern woman, Eve lets her son get away with a lot of shit. She overhears Brendan calling his girlfriend a ‘slut’ and a ‘bitch’ and lets it slide. Meanwhile, she’s excelling in her gender studies class and keeping the porn-industry alive. Was I supposed to appreciate the irony? I didn’t.
…she needed to remind him that it was not okay to call your girlfriend a bitch, even if that was a word you used jokingly with your male friends, even if the girl in question claimed not to mind. And even if she really is one, Eve thought…
Thirdly, Brendan is an entitled shit – yes, Perrotta set him up as the classic frat-boy but there were NO REAL CONSEQUENCES for any of his idiotic and damaging behaviour. Although Perrotta tries to address Brendan’s general arsehole-ishness through a couple of sub-plots, there remained a whiff of ‘boys will be boys’ which, quite frankly, repulsed me.
It’s been a long time since I read any Perrotta and my memory of his stories are that they are generally sharp satires. Mrs Fletcher lacked wit and Perrotta’s attempt at a contemporary story-line came off as embarrassingly dated and ill-informed.
I received my copy of Mrs Fletcher from the publisher, Scribner, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
*not in a prudish way but uneasy about stereotypes and the way some groups were represented by single characters in this book.
Eve wasn’t sure a Manhattan qualified as a ‘fancy cocktail’, but it was close enough that she felt entitled to check off a second box on her Going Solo checklist.
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 15): Belfast 10°-19° and Melbourne 5°-13°.