Little Children by Tom Perrotta is a witty and satirical look into suburbia. But while some parts of the novel are obviously exaggerated, the question nags, is it really that exaggerated?
Having grown up in suburbia and currently residing in suburbia, I could safely say that I'm a fairly good judge on the lifestyle. Much in the way of one of my favorite reads from last year, Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, Perrotta takes a lifestyle understood to be "boring" and shows why it's not, well, at least to the people living it.
While perhaps not as thrilling or lively as life in the city, Perrotta, as Ferris does, understands that it's the little things that consumes people's interests, and as they adjust to the comfy suburban life, whether or not you remembered your child's snack becomes as important as whether or not you'll get into the ultra-hip new club. Don't both measure your worth to some degree?
Wrought with intensity and humor, though at the same time, oddly realistic, Perrotta reveals the uglies of suburban life. The desolation of becoming lost in a marriage, the despair of having never found yourself. The fear that can infect a town, and the complexities of every character, from a loving father, to a resentful mother and finally to a pedophile. Perrotta layers each character honestly and realistically. He does not soften the blow of their ultimate faults, their selfishnesses and their insecurities. And yet he is able to show sympathy and respect for them at the same time. They come off as real people, multi-layered and whole. They are all struggling to find and accept themselves. And in the end, that is what they all have in common. That even though as adults, and parents, we're supposedly supposed to have it all figured out, that the vast majority of people don't.
Whether you judge these characters or not is up to you, but I found that I could not as I felt that Perrotta clearly did not intend for them to be judged. Or at least, he intended them to be stereotyped and then made it his purpose to pull you past the stereotype. Little Children is smart and challenges you to view people as wholes rather than by their stereotypes while at the same time making you laugh.
I also watched the movie and found it interesting. While I understood the purpose of the omnipresent narrative, it annoyed me and made the movie seem too satirical. The acting was good and I loved the casting of the characters. The ending I found both interesting and disturbing, as well as a little disappointing. The ending of the book felt right and felt as if the characters had clearly changed and understood themselves better. Meanwhile, the ending of the movie showed the characters somewhat changing but not in a satisfying way or to the extreme as in the novel. Sarah's transformation in the movie seemed really ridiculous and not at all the point, especially since it wasn't fear that transformed her in the book, but rather a true realization about herself and therefore I think that that transformation was much more powerful. And while Todd (or Brad, why bother changing his name in the movie I wonder??) followed through his transformation the same way as in the book, they left out one essential piece that had to do with his career, which was a huge issue for him throughout the novel. I found that disappointing as well because in the novel when he had his realization as a reader you're like, well, duh, yeah, that's totally what he should do for a living. Overall, I'm feeling a little so-so on the movie, but the book was just an excellent read, though I can see how it could rub some people the wrong way, sometimes I think you just need to get yourself rubbed the wrong way to shake things up. So go ahead and read it anyways.