What do you think of when someone tells you a book is ‘ripe for book club discussion’? Does that kind of description make you roll your eyes, or encourage you to dive right in? I personally hate the insinuation that certain books are ‘book club’ books, because it assumes that all book clubs are the same. Mine of course, is the best book club in the world, and we’re currently reading a dreaded ‘book club’ book, but I think Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta is going to surprise people.
The name Mrs. Fletcher is sort of a play on Mrs. Robinson and The Graduate, because the protagonist and divorcee Eve ends up getting involved (let’s just keep it at that) with a younger man. She also dives headfirst into a mild porn addiction, all seemingly in response to the life-altering event that her son has moved away to college. Now I know this book is starting to sound very risque, and I’m sure my male readers are on their way to the bookstore right now. But I should mention that this book takes place mainly in the suburbs, and it also deals with Eve’s thick-skulled son Brendan, so it’s not all sexy times and cocktails. Much to Brendan’s disappointment, college isn’t just an extension of high school, and it’s not all about getting drunk and sleeping around. Interestingly, we read Eve’s chapters from a third person perspective and Brendan’s from first person, so we always know exactly what Brendan’s thinking, which is sort of depressing considering how shallow he is.
I really liked the mundane subject matter of this book. It deals almost wholly with the relationships people have with each other, and how our relationship with ourselves change as move between life stages. This isn’t an action-packed plot, but the dynamics between people are constantly changing which makes for a quick and absorbing read. I also like the juxtaposition between two very different people: Eve and her son. Eve embarks on a life-changing path that begins with her enrolling in a class taught by a transgendered professor, while Brendan bumbles his way through campus life trying to maintain the ignorant status-quo he’s relied on thus far.
The biggest surprise of the book is the amount of left-ish political viewpoints that are expressed in the small town campus he belongs to. Believe me, this isn’t a complaint, I was just taken aback by how politically correct Brendan’s peer group was. Just a few examples; he joins in to a Michael Brown protest on campus because a girl he had a crush on was involved. That was right after we hear him complain about a bad mark he got on his writing assignment where he had to explain “What Does White Privilege Mean to Me?”, and shortly after he muses on the effects of climate change. I don’t recall my university experience looking like this, but I find this development heartening nonetheless. These open-minded kids are juxtaposed with the seniors that Eve works with at her job, who are so disgusted with the idea of transgendered people that they label it as a mental illness. I’m sure Perrotta is using these as extremes, and there is of course lots of space in the ‘grey zones’ of these topics, but I appreciate him raising these issues within the setting of the not-so-bland American suburbs.
A question to my readers: do you think Perrotta is drawing on extremes here, or is the landscape of the suburbs starting to change? I’d love perspectives from all countries, I’m sure we’d all like to comment on the modern make-up of Americans today 🙂
Great review! You have some interesting thoughts about the suburban landscape. I have questions about it too – are we highly publicizing very small minority groups (like transgenders) or is the group getting larger and more visible? And this book will definitely generate a lot of book club discussion due to all of the various themes.
Yes that’s a really good question! I’m actually interviewing perrotta when he comes to my city in a few weeks, do you mind if I ask him this question?
Wow, that’s cool! I don’t mind at all and look forward to hearing the response!!
Awesome thank you!
Seems to me there are two Americas and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if universities in the liberal half are studying gender issues, climate change etc. But it would surprise me a lot if the ones in the Bible Belt are, except perhaps to dispute them. I’m certain that they will be here in the UK – our universities, even the ancient ones, tend to be very left-leaning politically. Which seems odd since we keep voting for right-wing parties. Serendipitously I’ve just acquired a book on the making of Mrs Robinson and its impact on its generation… 🙂
Oohh can’t wait to see your review on that book!
I enjoyed your review and your question. I think he was going for laughs and extremes and I am very left-ish. If interested here is my review: https://books6259.wordpress.com/2017/08/19/mrs-fletcher-by-tom-perrotta/
Calling something a “book club book” implies to me that there’s something controversial in the book – that it’s something that will elicit strong opinions. I don’t think it’s a deal breaker for me but it’s not something that attracts me to a book either. I’ve read a couple of Perrotta books and I’ve not been super in love with either of them, but they were entertaining. The Leftovers was the best one IMO.
Yah the leftovers was really good. People in my book club seemed to be lukewarm on this one, and it talks about so many issues that we had a lively discussion!
I have to admit, when I hear a book called a “book club book” I assume it’s one that middle-aged women will enjoy; something without a lot of controversy but with enough in it to create some varying opinions.
As for your question: I live in a small town and find attitudes more liberal here than when I did live in the suburbs. Some of that depends on generational differences but I think the biggest difference is that most people in my small town have lived elsewhere and have broader life experiences than the people I encountered in the suburbs.
ohhhh that’s interesting that you find the attitudes more liberal in your small town, it’s sort of opposite to what you think it would be. Just goes to show you never know…
It’s a very left-leaning town, lots of hippies! Plus, most people are from somewhere else, which I find can make a huge difference. (Broader life experience etc.) There definitely are pockets of more conservative thought and casual racism though.
yes I think that’s true of most places though, unfortunately casual racism is just about everywhere (ughhh)
I think the perspective of the suburbs really depends on the location. I grew up in a small town in the Bible Belt and it was extremely conservative, as we’re almost all of the towns around. I now live in the suburb of a larger city (still in the Bible Belt) and the opinions here are much more liberal. I think it depends on how far away from a larger city it is, it seems the farther away, the more conservative or even narrow-minded the mindset.
I think you’re right! It’s so interesting to hear the perspective of Americans on this book as well, especially those coming from the bible-belt. Thank you for your comment!
I have zero clue what way colleges are going, but I do know that the is concern in the states that professors are liberals trying to force students to agree or fail. When I hear that something is a book club book, I assume that means there are a lot of themes to discuss that people would disagree on. Nice, neat books end up heading toward “I liked it/didn’t like it” without the nuance.
Hmm that’s interesting re: the professors
I had the pleasure of being in a book club with Emily Schulz last week at Word on the Street and I enjoyed the experience. I am thinking of starting a club here at the library I work at.
Interesting choice with Perrotta. I get the impression he documents the milieu of suburban thoughts and angst well.
oh yes, he’s known as the ‘suburban writer guy’ I think. It led to a very fruitful book club discussion. You should totally start your own club, it’s really fun, and great for the community too.
That is a very interesting angle though, to explore a mother and son’s relationship. But I’ve heard good things about this book. Maybe one day 🙂