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Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Published by Scribner on August 1, 2017

The point of Mrs. Fletcher, I think, is that life is always changing, no matter what stage our lives have reached; that we are always called upon to make choices as our circumstances change; that a fair percentage of those choices will turn out to be bad; and that we do the best we can with the choices we make. Of course, unfortunate choices can be really funny when they’re made by other people, and the only point of Mrs. Fletcher might be the laughter it inspires as the characters blunder forward with their lives.

Eve Fletcher works in a community center for the elderly, a fertile source for Tom Perrotta’s brand of comedy. Eve’s self-absorbed son Brendan is off to college, leaving behind his self-absorbed girlfriend after breaking up with her by text. For a few years, Eve has been divorced from her selfish husband Ted, who left her after meeting a Casual Encounter on Craigslist. Eve is now preparing for an empty nest by posting positive messages on her Facebook status and waiting for encouraging “likes” from her 221 friends. But Eve is needy and immediately feels abandoned, particularly when (after day 3) she stops receiving her promised daily text messages from Brendan. All of this motivates Eve's desire to leave her old self behind, a desire that manifests in sexual interests beyond her limited experience, as she considers sex with a young college student, sex with a woman, and sex in a threesome.

In the first part of the story, Perrotta alternates his focus between Eve and Brendan, telling Brendan’s story in the first person. Brendan’s introduction to college life gives Perrotta a chance to show off his ear for youthful dialog. Brendan’s college goals are to party as much as possible, study as little as possible, and get a degree (maybe in Econ) that will allow him to earn six figures as soon as possible. As his college advisor tells him, “Good luck with that.”

Where Eve’s life has changed by becoming an empty nester and Brendan’s has changed by losing the security of living at home, a third changed life is represented in Amanda Olney, the activities director in the senior center where Eve works. Unlike Eve, who has learned to fulfill her needs by surfing porn, Amanda hooks up for one night stands that make her feel good at the time but sad the next day. The novel eventually turns into a romp as the characters pair up in expected ways to engage in unconventional acts.

Perrotta’s socially observant humor shines in his depiction of Eve’s gender studies class (an evening class that gets her out of her house) and her emerging interest in MILF pornography; the casual racism and homophobia of seniors who are stuck in the 1950s; the tribulations of middle-age dating (and the dilemma faced by women of a certain age whose standards for men exceed their ability to attract those men); and Brendan’s politically incorrect cluelessness about women.

The story’s mildly serious elements include Brendan’s autistic half-brother; Brendan’s jealousy at the relationship his father has forged with his new family; the social construction of gender; the judgmental social convention of “age appropriate” relationships; high school bullying; the inability to let go of insignificant marital grievances; and the difficulty of moving forward after making a bad decision about life.

All of that comes together in a playful novel that is fun to read even if follows a formula that leads to predictable outcomes. Characters will do something foolish, learn a lesson from their foolish behavior, and perhaps find true romance in unexpected places. The novel flirts with unconventional thought while taking few chances, but it delivers the laughter and familiar insights that Perrotta fans expect.


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