Tom Perrotta's new novel may be called Little Children, but this darkly hilarious and deeply satisfying suburban tale delves into strictly adult matters of the heart. Set during a hot, drowsy summer in Anytown, USA, Little Children introduces us to characters bored with their traditional lives but unsure what it is they want instead. Sarah, an Ivy League-educated ex-lesbian, seems to be living one long "How did I get here?" moment as she finds herself transformed into a full-time mother and wife. Todd stays home with his toddler son while he studies for the bar exam or at least that's what he tells his wife. Mostly, he daydreams and takes his son to the community pool and generally avoids anything remotely related to the law. He just hasn't quite worked up the nerve to announce that he has no interest in being an attorney.
When Sarah and Todd cross paths one morning on a neighborhood playground, the sparks are undeniable. But it's unclear whether true chemistry or simple boredom causes the two of them to start an illicit affair. After all, Todd is already married to a beauty queen of a wife. The rather plain Sarah hardly measures up and she can't forget it.
Sound like a typical romance novel? It's not. On its surface, Little Children may be about a summer fling, but it digs into those uncomfortable issues so many wonder about but few actually voice aloud. Is the two-car garage and picket fence really what we're all striving for? What about the freedom to run off to the beach with a secret lover? Is that really so awful? Just to make the summer a little more interesting, Perrotta throws into the mix a less-than-desirable ex-convict who moves in down the street from Sarah. His arrival forces the suburban housewives Sarah has surrounded herself with to confront their own prejudices and ultimately to gain a little more perspective on what really matters.
With Little Children Perrotta displays a refreshing compassion without sacrificing his trademark understanding of what makes this country tick and what ticks it off.
Amy Scribner writes from Washington state.