Review: Little Children

Tom Perrotta (2004)

Sarah would be the first to admit she’s not the most maternal mother on the block. Mostly she resents the mind-numbing company she has to keep with the other suburban mothers. Todd is a handsome stay-at-home dad nicknamed “The Prom King” by the mommy group, the object of many a playground fantasy. Already an outsider among the group, Sarah doesn’t score many points when on a dare to get Todd’s phone number, she spontaneously kisses him in full view of the mommies. The sexual tension sparked by their kiss leads to an affair; hot sex between mornings spent at the pool and play dates for their kids.

Midlife angst runs rampant throughout this suburban Anytown, USA. Todd has failed the bar exam twice and is none-too-eager to try for a third. His wife Kathy, a documentary filmmaker, waits impatiently for Todd to assume his role as breadwinner so she can live the life she’s always dreamed of—on a successful lawyer’s salary, of course. Mary Ann, the mommy group queen bee, schedules sex with her husband one night a week. Richard ignores his wife Sarah and their three-year-old daughter to spend time on an Internet sex site. Larry, an ex-cop who’s been out of work for two years since fatally shooting a teenager wielding a toy gun in a shopping mall, is slowly driving away his wife and kids.

This group’s stagnant child rearing routine is jolted off the track by Tom and Sarah’s affair and the addition of a new member to the community—a recently paroled sex offender who exposed himself to a Girl Scout and is suspected of murdering another girl. These little children continually cross paths one summer at the neighborhood playgrounds, high school football field and community swimming pool. Their universe gets smaller and smaller, spiraling toward one fateful night.

What begins as a sly, observant novel about suburbia, middle age, and the stagnation (or comfort, depending on your point-of-view) that comes from the chronic sameness of marriage and parenthood, segues into a page-turning thriller. Though the ending is a dramatic letdown, the story is absorbing right up to the very end.

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