This is my first book my Tom Perrotta, but I look forward to reading the rest of his books that have been sitting on my shelf for a long time. Mrs. Fletcher (Eve) is a forty-six year old divorcee who just dropped her son off for college and returns home to an empty nest. Eve is witty and funny and I liked her immediately. She is lonely and seeking ways to fill the void so she begins watching porn at night and that leads to a sexual awakening of sorts. “She wanted something else-something different-though what that something was remained to be seen. All she really knew was that it was a big world out there, and she’d only been scratching the surface.” She decides to take a class at the community college and quickly develops friendships with the others in her class. “The important thing was that she was here, trying something different, meeting new people, making her world bigger instead of hunkering down, disappearing into her own solitude.”
The class she takes introduces us to a whole assortment of other troubled individuals. Margo is the instructor of the class. She is a transgender who is struggling with acceptance from the world and confidence within herself. “She didn’t really feel middle-aged. In her heart, she was a teenager, still learning the ins and outs of her new body. Still hoping for her share of love and happiness and fun, all those good things that the world sometimes provided.” “She was there to show the world what happiness and freedom looked like. You glowed with it. You did exactly what you wanted to. And whatever costume you wore, you were still yourself, unique and beautiful and unmistakable for anyone else.” “What she wouldn’t have given back then (as a teenager) to hear a trans adult tell her that she wasn’t alone, that happiness and wholeness were possible, that you could find a way to become the person you knew in your heart you truly were, despite all undeniable evidence to the contrary.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Fletcher’s son, Brendan is having a hard time at college. Eve says of Brendan: “He presented himself to the world- as a big, friendly, fun-loving bro- a dude you’d totally want on your team or in your frat.” Even though Brendan comes across this way, it becomes clear that he has a lot of built up issues, a lot of them to do with his father who left the family for another woman when Brendan was younger. Eve: “…something had gone out of him in the process (of divorce), all the boyish softness and vulnerability that had touched her so deeply. He just wasn’t as nice a person as he used to be- not nearly as sweet or as kind or as lovable- and she couldn’t forgive herself for letting that happen, for not knowing how to protect him, or how to fix what was broken.” “The divorce had left her with a permanently guilty conscience that made it almost impossible for her to stay mad at her son or hold him accountable for his actions.”
Brendan begins to struggle with fitting in, finding friends, and keeping his grades up. “One thing you realize when you’re on your own is how happy the people who aren’t alone look.” His father comes for a visit during family day with his wife and Brendan’s autistic step-brother, Jon-Jon. He says of his step-brother, “the whole time he was screaming and thrashing around, I kept thinking how unfair it was the my father loved him so much and held him so tight- way tighter than he’d ever held me-and wouldn’t let go no matter what.” Brendan is jealous of his step-brother and desperate for his father’s love and attention. He has felt neglected by him his whole life.
By the end of the book, most of the characters have managed to find some sort of happiness and understanding. I think this quote from the cover sums up the book perfectly: “a moving and funny examination of sexuality, identity, and the big clarifying mistakes people can make when they’re no longer sure who they are and where they belong.”
“You feel what you fucking feel. You don’t have to apologize to anyone.”
“You couldn’t turn away from the truth just because it ripped your guts out.”