Tom Perrotta Little Children Reviewed by Katie Dean

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Little Children

Tom Perrotta

St Martin's Press

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-312-31571-6

Publication Date: March 2004

Pages: 368; Price: $24.95

Date Reviewed: 29-05-04

Reviewed by: Katie Dean © 2004



General Fiction, Mystery


'Little Children' is a novel of suburban life and thirty-something angst. It is lighthearted, but full of truisms. Perrotta is a clever observer of people and the experiences and feelings he details will seem familiar to every reader. In many ways, very little actually happens, but Perrotta's style is so engaging that this book about ordinary people leading humdrum lives is strangely compelling.

The cast of characters is comparatively small. It focuses upon a handful of young parents all with toddlers. Todd is a handsome house-husband with a stunning wife and an angelic three-year old boy. Sarah is married to an older man with two grown daughters. She stays at home looking after their three-year old daughter. Larry is an ex-cop living at home in early retirement although he is only in his thirties. A handful of other young Mums known to Sarah and Todd from their visits to the playground also sidle in and out of the action. On the face of it, these are happily married people with comfortable homes and growing families; normal, unremarkable people.

The plot of the 'Little Children' is deceptively simple. On the one hand these are ordinary people living mundane and repetitive lives. The community is set alight when a convicted paedophile is released from prison and moves into their midst to live with his mother. Larry spearheads a campaign to have the man, Ronnie McGorvey evicted. The entire community is in uproar, attending public meetings and settling into a state of over-protective anxiety. This is the politics of suburbia, the willingness of a community to rally in self-defence at the first sign of threat. Perrotta treads a fine line between looking at a serious contemporary issue and a tongue-in-cheek dig at suburban civil protest.

This, however, is really only a sub-plot. Perrotta is primarily concerned with the phenomenon now trendily termed 'thirty-something angst', the ever-present need for compromise between family and career. Perrotta's viewpoint is polarized into two types. The stay-at-home half of the family face a complicated mixture of boredom with the mundane regularity of keeping house and looking after young children and the satisfaction of bringing up a family. The working half of the couple is subject to all the pressures of a career combined with the frustration of not being able to spend time with their family or doing the things they choose. These are frustrations that face all of us at one point or another. Perrotta manages to present the more comic side of these problems. His sense of human frailty is palpable and his novel is compelling because he manages to portray people with sensitivity and humour at the same time.

'Little Children' allows us to laugh at ourselves. It takes a comic look at very ordinary people in an average suburban town and examines themes that will be familiar to everyone. This genre of novel allows people to exercise a collective sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that they are not alone in the seemingly petty concerns that determine their everyday existence. Such subject matter, when combined with Perrotta's gift for character portrayal is guaranteed to produce a winning formula.