Tom Perrotta could well be our designated “Satirist-in-Chief,” a title earned through his subtle but subversive brand of irony. In prodding the inanities and contradictions of our culture, he always finds his mark — as he does in the odd, yet strangely compelling MRS. FLETCHER.
The book’s subjects — sex, porn, and gender identity — are guaranteed to make you uncomfortable, maybe even a bit queasy. At the heart of it all the author has placed an unlikely duo: an empty-nester single mom and her just-off-to-college son.
Left on their own for the first time, both mother and son overstep the boundaries of caution and common sense. They act out in cringe-worthy scenes that make readers, at least this one, want to reach through that fourth wall and yank them back from the brink — because, despite their irritating, at times maddening, foibles, the author has gotten us care about them.
Forty-six and divorced, Eve Fletcher learns that she’s considered a MILF (if you don’t know … Google it). Nursing a persistent loneliness, and urged on by her curiosity, Eve is drawn into the wild west of online MILF porn. Her curiosity soon blossoms into an addiction, and night after night she hurries home to crawl into bed and open her laptop.
Once she signs up for a college course on gender issues, Eve’s burgeoning sexual imagination and confusion wrap around one another like a double helix. She has seen the apple … and she wants a taste.
Meanwhile, Eve’s son Brendan, a self-identified “jock and hard-partier,” begins his freshman year at a college chosen strictly for its reputation as a good-time school. Although handsome and well-built, his smugness and entitlement make him an unlikable character. He’s a magnet for girls — but all too happy to use them for his own pleasure, on his own time.
Perrotti cleverly employs a first-person narrative in Brendan’s chapters, allowing us a glimpse of the lasting pain his father caused by abandoning him in childhood. As the story progresses, Brendan reveals more of his humane side — just in time for him to take a nasty fall from grace.
Perrotti explores how easy it is to feel at sea in a culture saturated with sex. How, he seems to ask, are we to respond to its fluidity, its lascivious enticements that come attached to strict taboos?
As engaging as it is, Mrs. Fletcher may not be Perrotti’s best. Somewhere after the opening chapters, the writing loses some of its style and wit, nor does the author ever quite get to the nugget of what it means to live in this confusing, hyper-sexualized world. Finally, Eve and Brendan never undergo their own self-assessment.
Still, mother and son, along with a cast of secondary characters, are a winning bunch. In the end, we all (characters and readers) find ourselves safely, solidly back in the realm of sexual sanity — just where we’re most comfortable. And no, there’s nothing (really) wrong with that.
A former college English instructor, Molly developed LitLovers after teaching an online literature course several years ago. It was so much fun—even the students loved it—that she decided to take it public. If Molly’s not working on LitLovers, she’s sleeping.