Originally published September 2017
Often times, when we are at a crossroads, we find it’s an opportunity to look back, to the sides and of course, forward.
So when you look, what do you see?
For Tom Perrotta’s fictional MILF, Eve Fletcher, the choices are many and none, all at once. “Mrs. Fletcher” is a story that marries the depressing and hopeful parallels of mid-life in the typical, intriguing dysfunctional narrative fans of Perrotta have come to love.
Mrs. Fletcher is joined by a handful of protagonists, ranging from her college freshman son, Brendan and his ex-classmate/her current classmate Julian, to her 20-something senior center employee Amanda and her transgender professor, Margo. Eve has dropped off her son at college and, divorced for several years, finds herself distinctly alone for the first time. Forcing herself to remain immersed in the social scene outside her home and her office at the senior center, Eve signs up for a community college class — just one time on a bucket list of things to do before she really is old.
It’s the college dropoff, a motley crew of classmates and an anonymous sexual text that pique Eve’s interest in feeling alive again, and lands her in questionable waters with increasing visits to a MILF porn site.
“Her reaction was the same every time she started a session: Ugh! How could they do it? How could people expose themselves like this? Just the sight of all that naked flesh was overwhelming and off-putting.” Riiiight. Like any habit that fills a void, Milfateria.com is both a crutch and a tool for Eve, keeping her company while she explores her own sexuality post-mother phase.
And there lies the core of the story — sexual identity. It’s there in an obvious form, as Eve signs up for a gender roles class with a transgender professor. But it’s also there in the shadows. The painful knowledge for Eve as she realizes she’s raised a misogynist for a son. Brendan’s slow realization that college is not as sexually liberating — or exciting in general — as he imagined. Amanda’s coming to terms with her attraction to women, and the confusing vibe that Eve sends her direction. In Julian’s obsession with older women. And in the dangerous turns Eve takes in trying to sort out her new life.
Is it the fantasy world of porn that permits Eve to push her own boundaries to a dangerous level? Are Eve’s actions any more or less defensible then her son’s, simply because she’s a middle-aged woman and not in a college fraternity? They are questions that’ll likely stick with Eve, even past the book’s hopeful ending, as she finds herself stuck in the shadow of past indiscretions when she is desperate to move forward.
I have long been a Tom Perrotta fan and Mrs. Fletcher did not disappoint. In fact, a line from one of my previous reviews still rings true with this read: “…much like Perrotta’s previous work, these stories aren’t about happy endings. These are about angst, longing, misguided desires, and the quiet desperation that results from knowing you’ve made a critical mistake from which there is no turning back. The stories are voyeuristic and sad, but deeply meaningful. And, as always, impeccably written. You just can’t go wrong with a Perrotta read.” With Mrs. Fletcher, he hits the nail on the head again, while layering on a pretty darn accurate portrayal of the bereft feeling that can overtake mothers when their sons leave, and the wide open expanse of a future that can be terrifying and fascinating all at once. I’m going to wrestle for a while with whether or not I agree with where each character lands, but that’s why I like his books so much. I think, then think, then think some more. This is excellent book club fodder. Pick it up and be entertained.
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