This soccer-mom Bovary, like the original, grasps the fundamental sadness of characters trapped in middle-class stability and yearning for adventures gone by. But Mr. Perrotta is too generous a writer to trivialize that. What distinguishes Little Children from run-of-the-mill suburban satire is its knowing blend of slyness and compassion.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
Little Children, like all Perrotta's work, is a virtuoso set of overlapping character studies, the sort of book where both a remorseless Stepford mom and an accused child molester can inspire pity and show themselves more than capable of their own sorts of compassion.... Tom Perrotta is, indeed, all grown up now, and Little Children, is a greatly auspicious and instructive encounter with the dread world of maturity.
Chris Lehmann - Washington Post
The eponymous children in this satirical novel are actually adults who, chafing at the burdens of parenthood, try to re-create their unencumbered youth. Sarah, an overeducated young homemaker, likens her tantrum-prone daughter to a “brooding Russian epileptic” out of Dostoevsky, and pines for lost college days of feminism and bisexuality. While her husband orders used panties online, she has furtive sex with a stay-at-home dad whose repeated failure to pass the bar has earned him the contempt of his gorgeous wife. The humor is sometimes cruel, but Perrotta never betrays the complexity of his characters. For all Sarah’s sins—neglecting her child, wallowing in romantic delusions—there’s something almost brave about her refusal to join the supermoms drilling their toddlers with dreams of Harvard, and about her yearning for more than “a painfully ordinary life."
The New Yorker
The characters in this intelligent, absorbing tale of suburban angst are constrained and defined by their relationship to children. There's Sarah, an erstwhile bisexual feminist who finds herself an unhappy mother and wife to a branding consultant addicted to Internet porn. There's Todd, a handsome ex-jock and stay-at-home dad known to neighborhood housewives as the Prom King, who finds in house-husbandry and reveries about his teenage glory days a comforting alternative to his wife's demands that he pass the bar and get on with a law career. There's Mary Ann, an uptight supermom who schedules sex with her husband every Tuesday at nine and already has her well-drilled four-year-old on the inside track to Harvard. And there's Ronnie, a pedophile whose return from prison throws the school district into an uproar, and his mother, May, who still harbors hopes that her son will turn out well after all. In the midst of this universe of mild to fulminating family dysfunction, Sarah and Todd drift into an affair that recaptures the passion of adolescence, that fleeting liminal period of freedom and possibility between the dutiful rigidities of childhood and parenthood. Perrotta (Election; Joe College; etc.) views his characters with a funny, acute and sympathetic eye, using the well-observed antics of preschoolers as a telling backdrop to their parents' botched transitions into adulthood. Once again, he proves himself an expert at exploring the roiling psychological depths beneath the placid surface of suburbia.
Perrotta moves away from his lighthearted, humorous tales of New Jersey (Joe College; Election) with his latest novel, a penetrating and absorbing portrait of three suburban couples and their failed marriages. There's Sarah, who was a bisexual feminist in college but has now married Richard, 20 years her senior, to escape a dead-end job; Todd, a handsome, stay-at-home dad who can't bring himself to care about repeatedly failing the bar exam; and Larry, a former cop who retired at 33 after mistakenly killing a 13-year-old boy. All of their lives collide with unexpected consequences the summer a convicted child molester moves into the neighborhood. Sarah and Todd have an extended affair, and Larry becomes obsessed with harassing the sex offender, while Richard turns into a devoted member of the online "Slutty Kay" fan club. Perrotta's poignant and unflinching prose skillfully evokes both sympathy for his characters and disdain for the convenience they have chosen. Highly recommended.— Karen T. Bilton, Somerset Cty. Lib., Bridgewater, NJ.
Several unstable marriages and a convicted pedophile's presence in a quiet suburban community ignite a complex, fast-moving plot. Darker than such sprightly entertainments as Joe College (2000) and The Wishbones (1997), Perrotta's fourth is an anatomy of marital and familial discord focused on four variously conjoined and separated couples. Sarah Pierce instantly falls for handsome househusband Todd, dubbed "the Prom King" by her fellow moms, who furtively ogle him at the playground where they all bring their kids. Sarah soon wants freedom from her (much older) husband Richard, a product consultant helplessly fixated on an Internet porn queen. Tod's wife Kathy, a hardworking documentary filmmaker, gradually loses patience with his failures to pass his bar exam. As Sarah and Todd begin a heady affair, ex-con sexual predator Ronnie McGorvey comes to live among them all with his widowed mother (and only companion) May, provoking neighborhood protests and stoking the already smoldering rage of Todd's touch-football league teammate Larry Moon, separated from his family and "retired" from the police department after he shot to death a black teenager brandishing a toy pistol. All these lit fuses eventually spark the superb extended climax, capped by a touching and deeply ironic resolution scene, which occurs at the same playground where its actions began. Savvy dialogue and interior monologue, characters so real you know you have relatives and neighbors exactly like them, and Perrotta's unerring grasp of the cultures of marriage and young parenthood pull the reader smoothly through a flexible narrative filled with little shocks of surprise and stunning set pieces (Kathy's awkward dinner party for Todd's "friends" Sarah and Richard, and his team's epic slugfest vs. a superior opponent are particular standouts). And the juxtapositions whereby Perrotta charts his several characters' interconnected misadventures are handled with masterly authority. An accomplished comic novelist extends his range brilliantly. Perrotta's best.
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