Mrs. Fletcher book coverSex in the Suburbs

Author: Tom Perrotta

Eve Fletcher is a divorcee and an about-to-be empty nester. She is preparing her son, the stereotypical entitled white-boy kegger-freak Brendan, for his first year at college. On the day of, Eve nearly walks in on her moody, distant Brendan and his girlfriend in flagrante delicto and she overhears just enough of his casual, course misogyny to shake her parental confidence. What has she raised!? How will Brendan fare in life if he says . . . things like that . . . and feels that way about women. Clearly, as a responsible, modern mom Eve should nip the problem in the bud. But she doesn’t and after a dissatisfying farewell to a son already forgetting her and choosing his new, equally douchey college bro friends, Eve returns home to an empty house to browse her phone in an empty bed – failed marriage behind her, failed child rearing in stark evidence. That’s when she gets the mystery text – U R my MILF! and everything, including her perception of who she can be and the rules she has to follow, begins to dramatically change.

As Eve navigates the choppy waters of narrow social mores (and morals), she starts taking a college course on Gender and Society, taught by a former pro-baseball player, now transgender teacher, Margo Fairchild. Margo is everything except conventional and through her class, Eve begins to develop a bigger perspective on the world while taking mental notes on the narrow-minded men forced to take the class (no other electives were available). From here, with Margo in one ear and the mysterious MILF text tantalizing her fantasies, Eve develops an obsession with MILF porn, especially scenarios between an older woman and a younger woman. Eve begins her second college experience, awakening to her sexuality and the possibilities just as Brendan begins his descent – a disastrously and publicly failed relationship and disintegrating grades. While Brendan discovers that college isn’t all about the party, Eve goes off the opposite deep end.

Meanwhile, at Eve’s day job at the Senior Center, a not-safe-for-work relationship between herself and her employee develops, Margo is invited to star a new speaker series at the nursing home which fails miserably, and the implications of Eve’s old world and new world face off. Add in one of Brendan’s high school enemies, a convenient yet perhaps not totally above-board plumber, an embarrassing art project, and some weirdly off-kilter ruminations on autism and familial favoritism, and you have a book desperately trying to be shocking that instead falls into a formula with a lazy “I don’t know, what do you think” ending.

woman on computer at nightIt’s difficult to even write a plot summary on Mrs. Fletcher without falling into the static rhythm of “then this happened, and then this, and then this.” There is no magic in the summary, no transition, and that actually mirrors the feel of the book. Perrotta intends to give us a dirty book with a heart – one that explores meaning in life and sex and picks apart the strictures of society to examine what really is right, at the individual level – like Erica Jong’s Fear of FlyingMrs. Fletcher, however, never really gets outside of the box. All the attempts at shocking scenarios either fall flat from the prospective of pure logic or otherwise leave readers disgusted with characters who employ juvenile misuses of sex to harm the lives – and jobs – of each other.

Let’s start with the logic. Eve Fletcher is forty-six years old. She has never heard the term MILF before (not believable) and apparently despite having been married and having a child, knows little to nothing about the sexual aspects of her being. Her fascination with porn, and the instant lesbian porn angle, feel more like pandering to a fantasizing male audience (reminiscent of  The New Yorker’s article on how women view male authors female renditions) than a true exploration of sexuality. This is furthered by the fact that one encounter satisfies Eve who from thence forward is back to being herself and only interested in men, despite the budding and prolonged fascination with her female coworker which took over much of the book. The sudden shifts could, perhaps, be explained in character yet Eve remains a static doll, propped up and moved along, her desires ending in a fantasy-land threesome that just has “male author” written all over it. Add to the fact that the threesome includes a barely college age, non-drinking age male, and you definitely have a scenario that appeals more to the male side.

Eve’s decisions themselves – judgment ahead – are purely immoral. She propositions her own employee who, after the short but spicy affair, is understandably uncomfortable with her position in the company, eventually feeling the need to leave. Even Eve admits that she took advantage of her situation of power and feels the occasional twinge of guilt: she did cost someone her job. This is not something that just organically happened either but something she knowingly courted, even while thinking over the aspects of her responsibility as the boss and repeatedly detailing, page after page, just how wrong it would be.

red hand with 18+ on palmAdd to this her encounter with the underage boy – need I even really say how this is wrong or strongly notate that the boy was the age of her son and was involved as a vengeance ploy (ultimate slight, “hey, I did your mom”). Also – the boy was super drunk and under Eve’s protection. In this situation, I don’t feel at all bad about being judgmental of a selfish character who should bloody well (and does) know better.

Eve’s sexual exploration feels more like the motivations of a person who is selfish than like a true exploration of what she wants and an acceptance of that. The bittersweet, mostly bitter, conclusion just underlies this even further as Eve returns to her role of homemaker and mother with a convenient new husband in a life once again inside the box she supposedly hated. Ummmm . . . and the moral is?

To put the final nail in the coffin, Brendan’s side story also ends in a fathomless quagmire. Not so much upset about his misogynistic approach to the world and his own backstabbing, he is more disheartened at the punishment than the crime. We actually end the novel with him, deciding to drop out of school and be a plumber’s assistant as averse to just fixing his selfish attitude. Some protagonist.

Add to this the fact that despite the premise of MILFs and porn, Mrs. Fletcher barely showcases any sex (other than the dull, college course essay conceptual kind). If you think that you’ll read this book and at least get some tantalizingly gratuitous segments, you’re wrong. You’ll get the traditional movie black out transition-to-next-event treatment.

Mrs. Fletcher is a story without a soul, written by an author who isn’t engaged, containing one dimensional characters who are more representational than alive. In the end, it all falls apart. What is this book, these people, meant to teach us? What is the point? Is sexual exploration good, bad, indifferent? What changes should be sought and at what price? Where does your responsibility to one person end and your own personal desire begin? All the questions that started the novel end it with an “ehhhh, you figure it out” slapdash departure as even the characters abandon their queries and decide it’s far easier to just live as before.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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