"I am a painfully ordinary person." (p. 18).
The local playground is the setting for quite a lot of drama during a brief period in one suburban Boston neighborhood. Sarah is 30, married and a mother when it hits her one day while pushing her daughter Lucy on the swing that she's become like every other woman at the playground--her friends!?!?--who caddily poke and prod about every little thing, pathetically over- obsessed with their trivial lives, or so it seems. So depressed is she by this revelation that she takes up a casual dare promoted by one of her counterparts to flirt with the handsome dad across the way. The lark becomes more than Sarah bargained for as she and the stranger, Todd, another unhappy spouse, enter into an affair, even accommodating their liasons around periods when their kids can play together. Soon discovering the fling is Kathy, Todd's exceptionally beautiful and domineering wife who reveals, in twisted fashion, that she's more insulted than angry over Todd's infidelity, viewing Sarah as a woman who's clearly "beneath her" in every respect.
Meanwhile in the same neighborhood not too far away, 33-year-old Larry Moon is a former police officer whose life has been plagued with nothing but anguish and guilt after he mistakenly shot and killed a black teenager. To outlet his distress and to give his life a sense of purpose, Larry has become obsessed to the point of rage over the fact that Ronald McGorvey, a sex offender, is allowed to live in his neighborhood. Larry's continued harassment leads to an encounter with Ronald's mother, May, who ends up dead after suffering a fatal stroke. Shortly afterwards, Sarah, intending to tell husband Richard she's leaving him for Todd, discovers that Richard's already left her for another woman, a pornographic actress. Still intending to elope with Todd, Sarah embarks en route to their rendezvous point--the playground--only to find, instead of Todd, a lurking Ronald being followed by Larry.
Little Children reads much like a Robert Altman film plays--think Nashville, Short Cuts, Gosford Park, etc.--with multiple, intertwined storylines played out over a relatively short period (Short Cuts was actually based on a collection of Raymond Chandler short stories). Perrotta's writing is a little less impartial than Altman's reserved, non-judgmental demeanor, but his characters can't help but resonate with the contemporary reader. Each indivdual is imbued with a sense of disillusionment, even with lives relatively free of problems and, in many respects, rather flourishing and prosperous. The central characters, Sarah and Todd, seem the most gutted by life's natural courses and transitions, each painfully realizing the lives they've had to "settle for", concluding that their weaknesses define them and their situations far better than any more positive personal attributes ever could. This novel, published in 2004, was ultimately made into a feature film starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. It garnered 3 Academy Award nominations including Winslet, as Sarah, for best actress.
*Shanahan, Mark. "Adaptation: Tom Perrotta is growing accustomed to seeing his books on the big screen", The Boston Globe, 2006.