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Little Children: A Novel [Hardcover]

Tom Perrotta
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 19 2004
Tom Perrotta's thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch. There's Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed "The Prom King" by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah's husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a fantasy life on the internet than with the flesh and blood in his own house; and Mary Ann, who thinks she has it all figured out, down to scheduling a weekly roll in the hay with her husband, every Tuesday at 9pm. They all raise their kids in the kind of sleepy American suburb where nothing ever seems to happen-at least until one eventful summer, when a convicted child molester moves back to town, and two restless parents begin an affair that goes further than either of them could have imagined. Unexpectedly suspenseful, but written with all the fluency and dark humor of Perrotta's previous novels, Little Children exposes the adult dramas unfolding amidst the swingsets and slides of an ordinary American playground.

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From Publishers Weekly

The characters in this intelligent, absorbing tale of suburban angst are constrained and defined by their relationship to children. There's Sarah, an erstwhile bisexual feminist who finds herself an unhappy mother and wife to a branding consultant addicted to Internet porn. There's Todd, a handsome ex-jock and stay-at-home dad known to neighborhood housewives as the Prom King, who finds in house-husbandry and reveries about his teenage glory days a comforting alternative to his wife's demands that he pass the bar and get on with a law career. There's Mary Ann, an uptight supermom who schedules sex with her husband every Tuesday at nine and already has her well-drilled four-year-old on the inside track to Harvard. And there's Ronnie, a pedophile whose return from prison throws the school district into an uproar, and his mother, May, who still harbors hopes that her son will turn out well after all. In the midst of this universe of mild to fulminating family dysfunction, Sarah and Todd drift into an affair that recaptures the passion of adolescence, that fleeting liminal period of freedom and possibility between the dutiful rigidities of childhood and parenthood. Perrotta (Election; Joe College; etc.) views his characters with a funny, acute and sympathetic eye, using the well-observed antics of preschoolers as a telling backdrop to their parents' botched transitions into adulthood. Once again, he proves himself an expert at exploring the roiling psychological depths beneath the placid surface of suburbia.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Perrotta sent up the foibles of high-schoolers in Election (1998) and of Ivy Leaguers in Joe College (2000). Here, in warmly humorous prose, he takes on the thirtysomething parents of young children. Handsome stay-at-home dad Todd, dubbed the Prom King by the moms at the playground, secretly grooves to Raffi and loves staging horrific train wrecks with his young son; he has flunked the bar exam twice and can sense his wife's increasing exasperation, but he can't force himself to study. Although Sarah has a Ph.D. in feminist studies, she is completely flummoxed by her toddler's temper tantrums and her husband's seeming infatuation with a pornographic Web site. Sarah and Todd fall into an unlikely affair, and although they know they are acting out of desperation to escape problems on the home front, their relationship is full of electric sex and genuine emotion. Perrotta, with a light but sure hand, expertly sketches the angst of the playground set and then amps up his material with a subplot involving a child molester. A fast-reading, wholly engaging novel. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars too thin May 23 2004
Mr. Perrotta writes well, but he's not T.C. Boyle, whom I think would've handled this material with more edge. Too often the author here assumes the reader will share his contempt for the characters without more dramatically showing why. I can't help noticing here a whiff of the creative writing class at work. The sameness of style that comes out of graduates of writing programs these days is depressing, especially the ubiquitous but apparently fashionable loathing one is supposed to have for middle class Americans. Mr. Perrotta has it in spades.
The character of Sarah is well drawn, but the rest of the cast is just too thin. Larry the cop (with a stale back story right out of 'Die Hard') and Todd's wife, who supposedly makes documentary films--but in neither case does Mr. Perrotta succeed in painting real people. Todd's wife never says a word about her crew, her budget, or her equipment. Add to this the rather contrived attempt to create suspense at the end with poor Ronnie the child killer and you have an unsatisying read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Big Babies July 3 2004
After reading many reviews touting Perrotta's brilliant writing in this book, I must say I am sorely disappointed with it. The characters, as other readers have pointed out, are hardly likeable (the only one I had any feelings at all for was the child molester, the best developed character in my opinion), but if the book had been better that might not have mattered to me as much. As it was, I found myself skimming through the unbearablly long football scenes and predictable plot line that made up the last third of the book. For my money, a better, certainly more entertaining look at similar (though admittedly not the same) people can be found in "The Nanny Diaries."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so little and certainly not childish Aug. 10 2005
Modern marriage and suburbia are thrown on the barbeque and thoroughly cooked in this dark, biting and witty satire. I was reminded of McCrae's stellar and harrowing portrait of American suburbia, "The Bark of the Dogwood" with its themes of child abuse and such. I remember when I was young my Mother once telling me, "No one has the Norman Rockwell family", and that statement is all in evidence here. In LITTLE CHILDREN, there's Todd, the once golden boy quarterback struggling to pass his bar exam and playing Mr Mom, while his wife tries to make ends meet. He meets Sarah one day at the playground who has her own problems in the marriage department since her husband is falling for an internet exhibitionist. Throw into the mix a recently released child molester, and you have the makings of some uncomfortable chuckles at the very least. LITTLE CHILDREN feels painfully accurate in its portrayal of disappointment and disenchantment so many of these characters feel in the daily grinds of their lives. And it's their almost obsessive pursuits to capture a fleeting bit of what they think can bring them happiness that makes it both painful and funny at the same time. Must also recommend the jaw-dropping, funny, well written, and horrifying BARK OF THE DOGWOOD which is likened to LITTLE CHILDREN. Great, both of them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Perrota changes direction -- and delivers again! July 2 2005
This time around, Perrotta takes satirical aim at the stifling confinement of suburban middle-class existence. Perrota's male characters are lost, utterly bewildered as to how they've landed in their unremarkable lives, saddled with spouses and mortgages and children. Having drifted, almost involuntarily, into adulthood, they suddenly snap awake, and begin a dismayed accounting of their lives, all facing the same choice: do they resign themselves to the lifelong tedium of the roles outlined for them by society, or risk the censure of family and friends by abandoning the façade of responsible adulthood and striking out alone after individual happiness?
Perrotta's characters are likable and, on a modest scale, tragic; from Sarah's halfhearted forays into being a strong-minded, independent feminist to Mary Ann's hard-won Martha Stewart perfection, their very natures are what will dictate the course of their lives and their inevitable discontent.
LITTLE CHILDREN is certainly a pleasure to read, with all of the sly humor and deft observation that Perrotta does so well. Whether it's the subtle jockeying for power among playground mothers, or the threadbare, joyless sexual relationship between long-married spouses, his prose is sparkling and clever.
Surrounded by abundance and prosperity, free from any real hardship, the characters must invent reasons to be unhappy in order to give their lives dramatic shape; deliberating over which playground to take their children to, or which fruit juice is really the healthiest, only points up the futility and insignificance of their existence.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Naked Suburbia - Veneer Ripped & Stripped Away June 2 2005
By A Customer
Although this was a well-written book, I didn't care for most of the characters.
Dramatis Personae:
Sarah, an immature bisexual housewife who is disinterested in her 3-year-old daughter, Lucy. Lucy is still in diapers and her language appears to be behind that of her peers. Sarah's husband is an ineffectual boorish oaf who becomes addicted to cyber porn and even leaves Sarah for a cyber porn model. He was previously married and has adult twin daughters from that first union.
Todd: The only likable adult character. He is married to a ruthless, driven woman who hounds him to take the Bar exam. He appeases his wife by pretending to take the exam. To his credit, he finds joy in spending time with his son, 3-year-old Aaron. Todd's son and Lucy's daughter are developmentally on the same plane. In time, Todd and Sarah become lovers after Sarah boldy flirts with and kisses Todd on the playground in plain sight of the other playground mothers. This comes as no real surprise to readers.
Mary-Ann was truly for the birds and was just so impossible to like. A ruthless barracuda, she schedules intimacy with the impersonal precision of a board (or in this case bored) meeting. She is a gold digger, having married Louis only for his bank account, stocks and portfolio. I didn't like the way she had her pre-schoolers go to bed at 7:30 just so as to make HER life easier. She did not appear to be interested in her son and daughter and had all the loving warmth of a clinical report or financial statement.
Larry - a thuggish boor of a cop who started an evening football team. He also hounds the town misfit, Ronnie and, like Sarah's husband is the father of twins. Unlike the boor/bore Sarah married, Larry's twins are boys and he is not fully divorced.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm surprised I liked it!
My wife was riveted to this book, so I thought I'd give it a try. It is largely 'chick lit', but Perrotta's writing is engaging and his situations are funny.
Published 10 months ago by carl
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good....
This one was actually pretty good. I got it on sale and was a little skeptical as to whether or not I would like it (the synopsis didn't sound THAT good), but I did! Read more
Published 20 months ago by rmt.nicoleg
4.0 out of 5 stars We are all Little Children Trying to Get Through Life
Often if I see a movie I really like I’ll read the book, which is what happened with Little Children. Read more
Published on April 28 2007 by Teddy
5.0 out of 5 stars Perrota changes direction -- and delivers again!
This time around, Perrotta takes satirical aim at the stifling confinement of suburban middle-class existence. Read more
Published on June 1 2005 by Sharon Turner
2.0 out of 5 stars Naked Suburbia - Veneer Removed
Although this was a well-written book, I didn't care for most of the characters.

Dramatis Personae:
Sarah, an immature, boorish bisexual housewife who is... Read more
Published on May 31 2005
5.0 out of 5 stars Perrota changes direction -- and delivers again!
This time around, Perrotta takes satirical aim at the stifling confinement of suburban middle-class existence. Read more
Published on May 8 2005 by Sharon Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars Evokes Images of the Best
There is a dark undercurrent in YOU REMIND ME OF ME that is oddly refreshing because of the biting sense of reality. Read more
Published on March 29 2005 by Susan Barringer
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad but true
Tom Perrotta's portrait of suburbia gone wrong is at once wonderful and yet sad. The protagonists (if you can call them that) are faced with the awakening that their lives are not... Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2004 by John Vanderhoos
4.0 out of 5 stars Witty and fun
I really enjoyed this book. I smiled, I laughed, and ultimately I nodded. What Perrotta says about suburbia (what I remember of it, having fled it years ago) is true, but this is... Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking and probably pretty accurate--(sigh)
Perrotta has written a brave book, full of dirty little secrets about suburbia hell (redundancy alert). Read more
Published on Aug. 4 2004
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