Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Little Children isn't a bad book, but there's nothing terribly original here. It's a work of literary genre fiction, a 'novel of suburban life,' the sort of thing that made Updike richer than Rabbit. It follows the rules of the road, does nothing unexpected, and doesn't cross too many lines. Despite the occasionally sharp narration, it's not really an edgy book. Philip Roth is much more deliciously satirical in the angry, bitter tirades of Mickey Sabbath and Nathan Zuckerman. Compared to Roth, Perrotta is positively well-behaved.

There's something else about this book that bothers me. Although Perrotta never explicitly dates the novel, it is obviously set in the summer of 2001, so it might be understood as a "9/11 novel," a sociological description of the American narcissism and immaturity into which four exploding planes were flown on September 11. Read this way, it becomes a more conservative novel than it was seemingly intended to be. Indeed, it can be interpreted as an expose of the effete, feminized, self-indulgent weaklings Americans had become before that "one defining moment" when George W. Bush and Movement Conservatism girded America's loins for a new age of manly militarism. (Hey, if Janeane Garofalo can work for FOX, I can sound like FOX NEWS.) Yes, Perrotta's novel does--perhaps unintentionally--accord with this tired, trashy, now-discredited narrative of neo-Con triumph. This reading may partly account for the book's success with reviewers in the middle of the Bush years, but it may also be highly ironic with regard to authorial intention. Perrotta may well have set the novel in the summer of 2001 in order to avoid dealing explicitly with Sept. 11, to write an American fiction that was not overtaken by politics. Even this possibility, though, contains a tacit admission that his novel is implicitly structured as a 'loss of innocence' narrative with Sept. 11 as the ultimate off-stage gang rape.

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