Little Children (novel)
First edition cover
|Publisher||St. Martin's Press|
|March 1, 2004|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3566.E6948 L57 2004|
Little Children is a 2004 novel by American author Tom Perrotta that interweaves the darkly comedic stories of seven main characters, all of whom live in the same suburban Boston neighborhood during the middle of a hot summer. The novel received critical praise, spurring The New York Times to declare Perrotta "an American Chekhov whose characters even at their most ridiculous seem blessed and ennobled by a luminous human aura." The novel was featured on numerous "Best Books of 2004" lists—including those of The New York Times Book Review, Newsweek, National Public Radio, and People magazine. In 2006, the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film of the same name.
Sarah, who once considered herself a radical feminist, wonders how she allowed herself to be reduced to a common housewife, constantly at the playground with three other highly-judgmental women. Her husband, Richard, is much older than Sarah and a sort of last alternative for her love life; it is even hinted that she married him only because she feared that she would be stuck in her dead-end job and life otherwise. Sarah describes Richard as "under" her expectations. When she discovers his addiction to internet pornography, she is more apathetic than disgusted.
Todd is a handsome young father the neighborhood women have nicknamed the "Prom King." One of the other mothers offers a challenge to Sarah: "Five bucks if you get his phone number." While jokingly discussing the bet, Todd and Sarah engage in a kiss that becomes more passionate than the ruse called for. This leads to a convenient affair between the two who "happen" to cross each other at the local pool and "happen" to bring their children to nap together while they have sex on the living room floor.
Larry is a retired policeman. He left the force after shooting a black student brandishing a toy gun at a local shopping mall; the guilt became so unbearable that he collected his pension early. Larry, who loved his job and refuses to let go of it, is angry that Ronald "Ronnie" McGorvey, a sex offender convicted of exposing himself to children, is allowed to live in his neighborhood, and starts a fanatical one-man vendetta to drive him out. He harasses Ronald and his mother, May,in childish manners, going as far as to light dog feces on fire in the yard of May's home. Ronnie, for his part, finds himself ostracized by the community because of this, and the few dates his mother forces him to go on are ruined when he gives in to temptation and masturbates while watching children. Larry eventually gets into a shoving match with May, who has a stroke that leads to her death. Bertha, a school crossing guard and May's best friend, takes Ronnie to the hospital, where May has written him a note that reads only "Please, please be a good boy."
Todd enters into the affair with Sarah primarily because he shares her dissatisfaction with life, particularly concerning his wife Kathy, a gorgeous, long-legged brunette who works as a documentary filmmaker. She resents being the primary breadwinner of their home and continually pressures Todd to follow up on his law school education; Todd, having failed the bar exam twice already, has never had any real enthusiasm for the law, but studies out of deference to her wishes. Kathy later finds out about Todd's illicit affair with the rather plain Sarah, and finds herself more insulted than angry that Todd would go for someone less attractive.
The novel ends with Todd and Sarah planning to leave their spouses. But Sarah finds, via a phone call, that Richard has left her for an internet porn star called "Slutty Kay", who goes by her real name, Carla, around her gentleman callers. Sarah takes her daughter Lucy to the local playground late at night while waiting for Todd, who injures himself while hanging out with some local skaters he's been watching for months. Just when she starts to lose hope, Ronald appears. Much to her own surprise, she finds sympathy for him — until he admits that he has given in to his compulsions and killed a girl. Larry suddenly approaches, ready to kill Ronald, but finds it in his heart to offer his condolence for May's death. Sarah just sits, baffled, wondering how she will raise her daughter, whom she feels she has greatly let down.