Published by Scribner
Publication date: August 1st 2017
Eve Fletcher is an attractive divorcée in her mid-forties. Her husband left her for a woman he met on Craigslist and her only child, Brendan is heading off to college on the morning. Eve has a good job, but feels like it is all that’s left to her with her husband and her son gone and while she’s ferociously lonely she’s gotten no further in navigating the single world than looking at porn online. Every night. Needless to say, she’s a bit lost and so makes the perfect reactive agent for the petri dish that is Tom Perrotta’s new novel, Mrs. Fletcher.
Perrotta brings nuance to the new terrain of gender identity, sexual ambiguity, and political correctness by filling Mrs. Fletcher with characters who all fall somewhere on the spectrum of being either the problem, the victim or the bystander. Eve’s son Brendan is a successful athlete, lazy student (no, just not living up to his potential) who can’t understand why women don’t want to be called bitch and slut when he’s having sex with them. They love it in the music he listens to! Julian has bought into the MILF culture, with Eve as his fixation. Amanda works with Eve and is a Tinder pro, but Eve misinterprets her interest in friendship as being open to experimentation. Then there is Margo, her Gender Studies professor, who used to be Mark and while outwardly confident, is in her first relationship with a straight, black man. It’s a new world and everyone is flailing to get their balance.
On the one hand, Mrs. Fletcher effectively represents the current obliteration of boundaries in contemporary society. Forget blurring them—having sex with a friends’ mother, texting a woman anonymously about what you’d like to do to her, using derogatory terms to a woman who is…you get the picture—boundaries are being shattered. Perrotta’s take on today’s confusion about sexuality resonates until a scene three-fourths of the way through the novel. It pushed what was an interesting plot into, well, cheesy porn, which is not interesting. At that point, I was ready to step off his speeding train of modern mores, but I stayed on and finished the book. And, in the final pages, he delivered a coup de grace, leaving me depressed about not just relationships and how we make it all work, but marriage and the ability to know another person. He’s a cynical S.O.B is Mr. Perrotta.
Throughout Mrs. Fletcher I was reminded of Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities, I am Charlotte Simmons) and his ability to condense the American psyche into vastly entertaining fiction. Perrotta does the same thing, but his intentions feel different. Wolfe maintains a journalistic detachment while Perrotta seems more inclined to agitate. You’re not just reading about how things are, you’re supposed to react. And I did, which is why the novel lands in It’s Not You, It’s Me. It left me as frustrated and disappointed as Eve watching porn on her phone, but for you Mrs. Fletcher might be a watershed novel.