Sunday, April 9, 2017

Book Review: "Mrs. Fletcher" by Tom Perrotta

With books like Election, The Abstinence Teacher, The Leftovers, and Little Children, Tom Perrotta has proven to be a master commentator on the foibles of society, on people's attitudes toward love, sex, relationships, religion, parenthood, and morality. He has a wry wit and isn't afraid to expose his characters' flaws, and he does so again in his newest novel, Mrs. Fletcher.

A divorcee in her mid-40s, Eve Fletcher is at a bit of a crossroads. Her only son has left for college, leaving her completely alone for the first time. As she starts trying to figure out how to fill that loneliness, she gets a random text one night from a number she doesn't recognize, which tells her, "U R my MILF!" The text throws her for quite a loop, and as she tries to figure out who might have sent it to her, she suddenly finds herself on the internet, following an interesting chain which leads her to, a porn website she can't seem to tear herself away from.

"What that meant, Eve realized, was that you couldn't really say, I'm not a MILF, because a MILF was in the eye of the beholder. The other thing she'd learned was that you shouldn't google the term if you didn't want to find yourself swimming in an ocean of porn."

As Eve tries to fight her growing porn habit (or is it an addiction?), the videos she watches every day sends her mind into territory she had never thought about before, territory which has the potential to make things difficult in her job as executive director of a local senior center, as well as make her look at people and situations with a very different eye. She isn't sure which end is up, or with whom she wants to end up.

Meanwhile, Eve's son Brendan, a jock and, quite simply, a bit of a douchebag, is having a tough time adjusting to college. He's the type of guy who has multiple shirtless pictures of himself on his Facebook page, because if you look good shirtless, shouldn't you show your body off? Brendan had thought college would be an endless parade of parties, drinking, drugs, and, perhaps most importantly, sex with a wide assortment of women. But with his roommate mostly AWOL, and most of his friends into their own things, it turns out girls don't like it when you call them things like "slut" and "bitch," and college doesn't go so well when you barely concentrate on your classes.

Eve and Brendan both find themselves confronting the after-effects of mistakes they make, mistakes which cause both of them to despair in very different ways. Can Eve overcome her porn habit and find her way to a "real" relationship? Is college the right path for Brendan, and if so, will he find people who think the way he does, or will he need to be the one who changes?

Mrs. Fletcher is a fascinating, fairly explicit look at how our attitudes toward sex, sexuality, relationships, and morality are formed, and how they change. It shows that when sex is all you think about, and you think with your libido instead of your brain or your heart, the direction you move in is probably going to get you in trouble. It's also a book about finding happiness with yourself before you can find someone else.

I love the way Perrotta combines humor with social commentary. While his books have dealt with sexuality before, this was a pretty frank book, and it touched on some very interesting territory, territory which may make some uncomfortable. It's definitely very thought-provoking.

These characters, particularly Brendan, aren't particularly sympathetic—they make a lot of stupid mistakes and sometimes don't even realize they're doing so. I found myself amazed at what Eve got herself into, and how she thought, but at the same time, she wasn't willing to speak up to her son about the way he was behaving.

I enjoyed this book, but I don't think this ranks up there among Perrotta's best. Still, he writes like very few other authors out there, and it's always great to read his work.

NetGalley and Scribner provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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