Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta
Published by Scribner
Publication date: June 7, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Tracy Flick Can’t Win is the latest novel from Tom Perrotta and if the title’s name looks familiar it’s because this is a sequel to his novel, Election. I never read the first book, but know Tracy well from the movie adaptation of the book. She was a goody-two-shoes teenager perfectly played by Reese Witherspoon. Tracy Flick Can’t Win is about the life of middle-aged Tracy so I was picturing an older, tired Reese the entire time I was reading.
Tracy’s hoped-for career in law and politics never materializes, despite her ardent ambition and her mother’s fondest dreams. Instead, she’s the assistant principal of a high school and the current principal is finally retiring. She wants the job and is determined to get it. Unfortunately, having been a stickler for the rules all her life has not made her popular amongst the PTA or the school board so she sets out to win over the people in power.
One of the board members, Kyle, a former student who’s become wildly wealthy, wants to improve the school’s image. He thinks establishing a Hall of Fame would showcase the school’s history of producing successful, important citizens. Tracy goes along with the idea and is on the selection committee, but her ideas of what makes a good citizen (intellectual, artistic, or community achievement), are different than Kyle’s. He wants the award to go to a former football player who went pro, but in more recent news, quickly washed out of the NFL. Beyond that the only thing he’s successful at is making bad choices.
Perrotta’s novels take a singular event, whether it’s as small as high school student government elections or as global as the Rapture, and delve into the varied human responses to that situation. In this case, it’s Tracy coming to grips with her past, the choices she made and how she perceived her actions then and now, not to mention, parenting a child who is nothing like you. We also get the perspectives of the two students from the school who are on the selection committee, as well as the retiring principal, and even the football player. Each feeds into the flow of the novel and rounds out the truth of America now, with dark humor and nuance.
Tracy Flick Can’t Win was really good, but something held it back from great. Which may be the point. Tracy’s middle-aged and mostly, she’s just tired. Tired of nothing working out no matter how hard she tries, tired of being passed over and patronized by men. She’s struggling with the feelings of loss that come from life not turning out the way you’d hoped. This weariness came across in the writing as detachment so while Tracy Flick Can’t Win was technically what I expected I didn’t respond as much as I’d hoped.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Scribner in exchange for an honest review.*