Entertainment

After 'The Leftovers' Tom Perrotta turns to suburbia and a coming-of-age story

Tom Perrotta, author of "Mrs. Fletcher. He also wrote two short story collections and seven novels books, including “Election” and “Little Children,” which were made into Oscar-nominated films, and “The Leftovers,” which was adapted into a Peabody Award-winning HBO series.
Tom Perrotta, author of "Mrs. Fletcher. He also wrote two short story collections and seven novels books, including “Election” and “Little Children,” which were made into Oscar-nominated films, and “The Leftovers,” which was adapted into a Peabody Award-winning HBO series. HBO

Author Tom Perrotta’s bestselling book "Mrs. Fletcher" will make adults blush.

The main character, Eve Fletcher, is a 46-year-old single mother whose son just went off to college. The empty-nester now spends her free time taking a gender studies class, watching pornography and flirting with an 18-year-old boy.

“Mrs. Fletcher,” the New York Times bestseller, was released last summer in hardback and is now available in paperback.

Perrotta will come to Chapel Hill's Flyleaf Books May 1 to talk about the novel and his other works.

He's the bestselling author of two short story collections and seven novels, including “Election” and “Little Children.” Those two were made into Oscar-nominated films. Most recently, his novel, “The Leftovers,” was adapted into a Peabody Award-winning HBO series. The critically acclaimed series ended after three seasons in 2017.

Mrs. Fletcher.jpg
“Mrs. Fletcher,” the New York Times bestseller, was released last summer in hardback and is now available in paperback. Simon & Schuster

This lusty novel unfolds as Mrs. Fletcher takes on adventures after being left by her husband years earlier and now feels abandoned by her son who is off to college.

But sex is not gratuitous in this honest and complicated coming-of-age story of an older woman and her college-age son. Mrs. Fletcher is about grown folks searching for meaningful and stable relationships — and sometimes physical attraction gets in the way.

During a telephone interview from his Belmont, Mass., home, Perrotta talked about Mrs. Fletcher, her son Brendan and the hook-up culture.

Q: What is Mrs. Fletcher really searching for?

A: She’s searching for an identity. She’s feeling like she just lost her identity as a mother, which defined her life for the past 18 years. Now, she’s now wondering who she is in the world, and to some degree that connects to her wondering if she’s sexually visible in the world. She’s a woman in her late 40s.

Q: Is Mrs. Fletcher the 21st century Mrs. Robinson from the movie "The Graduate"?

A: I think the title definitely calls back that echo. And she gets involved with two younger people in the novel. She actually thinks about this question herself at one point in the book. She sort of thinks of Mrs. Robinson as a cougar, a predatory older woman… She wanders into these flings in a different way. She’s not predatory; she’s just an attractive older woman. Mrs. Robinson seems quite aware of her allure.

Q: Americans have a reputation for being prudes when it comes to sex compared to Europeans. Is Mrs. Fletcher your way of changing our reputation?

A: I spoke to my French publisher, and what she said made a lot of sense to me. French women go for these adventures and not even question them. Mrs. Fletcher does these things in kind of impulsive moments and then suffers from a lot of guilt. Americans are not really prudes but they have guilty consciousness.

Q: Brendan seems like a mixture of a young cocky and insecure 18-year-old. How common is Brendan’s shabby behavior toward women?

A: I read a book called, "Girls and Sex (Navigating the Complicated New Landscape)" by Peggy Orenstein, where she interviewed a lot of young women about their sexual experiences. I think that some of Brendan’s behavior is shabby, as you say. Some of it is built into this hook-up culture that college students and people in their 20s have developed for themselves. It creates an atmosphere where there is a fair amount of sex but not a lot of obligation. … A certain amount of shabby behavior is built into it …

There’s almost a competition of who can care less. That doesn’t get Brendan off the hook. I wrote the book before the Me Too movement, and there was a strong outcry among American women. Brendan is a part of the culture that exists now. Like a lot of young men, he can’t seem to articulate what’s bothering him.

Q: Does Mrs. Fletcher settle at the end?

A: I’m weary of talking about the end because not everyone has read the book. I think that is a really interesting question. She’s grappling with that question as we are. I will let the reader decide.

Q: How do you create flawed characters that are relatable and loveable?

A: What I try to do is give the reader access to the inner workings of my characters’ minds. So when you hear about some things Mrs. Fletcher does, you want to read the book to find out what she is thinking. I try to get at the psychological context for the things the character does that may make them unlikeable or expose them to our judgment.

Bridgette A Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at bridgettelacy@att.net.

Details

Tom Perrotta will talk about his novel, “Mrs. Fletcher,” (Scribner, $16.99) May 1 at 7 p.m. at Flyleaf Books, 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill.

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