Several unstable marriages and a convicted pedophile’s presence in a quiet suburban community ignite a complex, fast-moving plot.
Darker than such sprightly entertainments as Joe College (2000) and The Wishbones (1997), Perrotta’s fourth is an anatomy of marital and familial discord focused on four variously conjoined and separated couples. Sarah Pierce instantly falls for handsome househusband Todd, dubbed “the Prom King” by her fellow moms, who furtively ogle him at the playground where they all bring their kids. Sarah soon wants freedom from her (much older) husband Richard, a product consultant helplessly fixated on an Internet porn queen. Todd’s wife Kathy, a hardworking documentary filmmaker, gradually loses patience with his failures to pass his bar exam. As Sarah and Todd begin a heady affair, ex-con sexual predator Ronnie McGorvey comes to live among them all with his widowed mother (and only companion) May, provoking neighborhood protests and stoking the already smoldering rage of Todd’s touch-football league teammate Larry Moon, separated from his family and “retired” from the police department after he shot to death a black teenager brandishing a toy pistol. All these lit fuses eventually spark the superb extended climax, capped by a touching and deeply ironic resolution scene, which occurs at the same playground where its actions began. Savvy dialogue and interior monologue, characters so real you know you have relatives and neighbors exactly like them, and Perrotta’s unerring grasp of the cultures of marriage and young parenthood pull the reader smoothly through a flexible narrative filled with little shocks of surprise and stunning set pieces (Kathy’s awkward dinner party for Todd’s “friends” Sarah and Richard, and his team’s epic slugfest vs. a superior opponent are particular standouts). And the juxtapositions whereby Perrotta charts his several characters’ interconnected misadventures are handled with masterly authority.
An accomplished comic novelist extends his range brilliantly. Perrotta’s best.