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ELECTION by Tom Perrotta

ELECTION

By Tom Perrotta

Pub Date: March 9th, 1998
ISBN: 0-399-14366-1
Publisher: Putnam

 Perrotta's delightful first novel, The Wishbones (1997), and a preceding story collection, Bad Haircut (1994), observed with wry and hilarious wit the agonies of growing up (and also of refusing to) in suburban New Jersey in the 1970s. Here, the author surveys an essentially similar territory and theme, but this time the formula is somewhat less successfully mixed. The year is 1992, the town is Winwood, and the plot revolves around the upcoming election for its high school's president (apparently a single one for all four classes). In a curiously unabsorbing narrative (though it's readable enough), half a dozen characters narrate in mini-chapters their versions of the intrigue that dominates the election campaign, the kids' own screwed-up self-images and sexual confusions, and their elders' parallel truancies. Popular Tracy Flick, for instance, buoyed by her superabundant energy and ``amazing body,'' knows she's the odds-on favorite to be her classmates' choice. But when history teacher and faculty advisor Jim McAllister (``Mr. M.'') persuades football hero and all-round good kid Paul Warren to run against Tracy (and that isn't all Mr. M. does), the plot thickens--and grows thicker still when Paul's kid sister Tammy, an unusually introspective misfit with a double-barreled identity crisis, also enters the contest. It's hard to pinpoint where the generally entertaining story goes wrong. But it feels simultaneously footloose and overplotted; the characters' voices aren't skillfully differentiated; and Perrotta doesn't sense the inconsistency of resolving some of his characters' fates (the final sequence is a beauty), while leaving others awkwardly hanging. No matter. It's a done deal that Matthew Broderick will play Mr. M. in the forthcoming film, and that Perrotta's well-deserved success will undoubtedly enable him to write better novels than this one--perhaps even another as good as The Wishbones. (Film rights to MTV Films/Paramount)