Interview with Tom Perrotta

August, 2017
Tom Perrotta In Mrs. Fletcher, Eve Fletcher finds freedom more challenging than she imagined. Her life, to her thinking, has been uneventful. She's the director of a senior center, divorced, with a son just off to college. Now in her forties, she's ready to find out more about herself, even taking a gender studies class.

But she didn't count on becoming fascinated by porn. Or intrigued by her twentysomething female coworker. Or turned on by the come-ons of a man the same age as her son. Meanwhile her son, Brendan—who planned to spend his college days partying and getting laid—is also finding freedom more challenging than he imagined.


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Author Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers, Election, Little Children) spoke to Goodreads' Todd Leopold about getting into the heads of his diverse characters, what he thinks of the many adaptations of his works, and if he's ever wanted to write sequels.

Goodreads: What inspired you to write Mrs. Fletcher?

Tom Perrotta: I'd been thinking about this back-to-school feeling and remembering my own college days, and also this moment in midlife when your kids do go off to school and it triggers an assessment of where you are. And I'm very interested in sex and the way that ideas about sex and what's permissible keep changing. So the fun of the book is to take a middle-aged person and plunge them into what is a youthful world of dating and sex.

GR: I think you handled the porn very intelligently. Were you sensitive about this?

TP: I've been thinking a lot about it. Our kids have grown up in a world where porn is ubiquitous, whereas for me it was very much contraband—and it wasn't a deluge of the entire spectrum of human sexuality. I am aware of all the dangers and downsides, but I was also starting to feel like the culture itself refuses to talk about this thing that has changed the sexual behavior of people who don't look at it. I wanted to plunge a character into this world who had been blissfully unaware of it and to see if there wasn't some erotic possibility in that.

GR: Your characters include a trans woman, Brendan's girlfriend, and a variety of other women besides Eve. Were there challenges to get in these characters' heads?

TP: That is something I've become increasingly interested in. I was superconscious about the way the discussion of gender and new conceptions of gender have swept through the culture in the past three or four years. Part of putting Eve in that class is if you grew up with the binary vision of gender like many of us did, what happens when you start thinking about it differently? So I try to keep my ears open. Once you keep your ears open, it turns out people are whispering loudly in the next room.

I was worried about getting into the head of Margo (the transgender studies professor). But as a writer, you have to imagine yourself in other people's minds and bodies. I want to do it with respect, but I don't want to do it with fear. I want to connect with a character and imagine my way in, and all I can do is accept the reader's verdict that that feels right to them.


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GR: One reason I enjoy your books is that they're so humane—your characters are generally decent people doing the best they can. Is it hard to not make fun or wag a finger at them when they're foolish?

TP: There's nothing to be gained from a novelistic perspective from that, and I think it relates to what I was just telling you. I have to see my way into them and see what the world looks like to each character. Most of us want to feel like we're doing the right thing even when we're doing the wrong thing. That kind of emotional math is really fascinating to me—the rationalizations and justifications we use.

GR: There are lots of questions about the HBO version of The Leftovers, which just concluded. Derek and Mary want to know what you thought of it.

TP: I was hoping that we would go beyond the scope of the book. I wanted to tell a story about a psychological apocalypse rather than a kind of external one. What [producer] Damon [Lindelof] figured out how to do was take that story of internal damage and somehow externalize it. So the story got more overtly religious, more operatic, more sci-fi—it just pushed the limits I'd put on the material to write the book. It was exhilarating for all of us and was a process of discovery, which I think is what you want.

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GR: Will wants to know whether there will be a sequel, and Paul asks if you've ever considered writing a follow-up to any of your works. He'd like to know how Election's Tracy Flick is doing.

TP: I certainly don't have any plans [for The Leftovers]. I guess there's some possibility down the road that some part of it may call to me, but that's never happened with my work—I've never felt the need to go back to a project once it's done.

[As for Election], it's actually a great idea, and it's an idea that's been proposed to me by some movie people, but I'd rather leave it to Paul. I think it's such a dangerous thing to go back to characters. You can kill the pleasure of the original if the sequel doesn't live up to it.

GR: From Cathryn: A few years ago The Wall Street Journal described you as a master of suburban noir. Do you agree, and how do you define that?

TP: I always thought I was writing about people, just people who lived in the suburbs. As for noir, I think of myself as a realist or even a dark comic realist. I love crime fiction, and I think I've tried to borrow from its pacing, so maybe there's something about the way my books read that does remind some readers of crime fiction.

GR: Who are some of your favorite authors?

TP: There are so many: Edith Wharton, John Cheever, Sherwood AndersonWinesburg, Ohio is a book that means a lot to me. Contemporary writers I love are Jennifer Egan—a remarkable writer. Dennis Lehane and Megan Abbott are writing crime books that I really love. Richard Russo is a writer I've admired for many, many years. Tobias Wolff, who was my teacher. Colson Whitehead.

GR: What are you reading now?

TP: I'm reading this biography of Robert Lowell called Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison. It's basically a look at Lowell's manic-depressive illness and how it affected his writing and his life. It kind of relates to what we were talking about before—Lowell treated a lot of people very badly in his life, but they loved him anyway because they knew he was sick. If you just looked at the way he treated people, it would be easy to judge him as an awful person, but I think she's trying to separate the illness from the man and the poet. It's a very compassionate act of reading.




Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by Mickey (new)

Mickey Weinstein Sounds like a worthwhile book to read, but calling 40s middle age? Really? People in my generation have kids who are turning 40 with young children. Eve should have been at least 50. It would have been a hoot to have a character who remembers something about the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s and how far this contemporary second sexual revolution has brought us.


message 2: by Seregon (new)

Seregon I agree with you, Mickey. It's like he's saying 40 something women don't have sex and haven't in a while. I'm 36 and I find it insulting. If the character were a man, would sex at 40 still be considered such a shock??

On another note, and no I'm not a bigot (though people are going to probably call me that anyway b/c people like to name call...), but does everything have to be about transgenders now? Why is that a trend?


message 3: by Nancy (new)

Nancy I hope the designer of the book jacket gave credit to Will Barnet.


message 4: by Jerry (new)

Jerry Wanager Read what you said and don't believe it. We are taught and accept certain social function of our time. I don't need to change the rules of romance to change our outlook on life. Sexual excitement is not stimulated by ravaging a woman's body. My opinion of anything else is repulsive and not sex.


message 5: by Rosa (new)

Rosa Abraham Middle age stands for half of our life. It's more feasible to did in the 80s than in the 100s. I agree with the author. Middle age is in the 40s.


message 6: by JAKe (new)

JAKe Hatmacher Book wrote: "I agree with you, Mickey. It's like he's saying 40 something women don't have sex and haven't in a while. I'm 36 and I find it insulting. If the character were a man, would sex at 40 still be consi..."

I was intetested in your last comment concerning does everything have to include trangendets now. No, l don't believe so, but they do exist. I've read several stories that have them ad main characters. Most are all about them and often "kinky" as we used to say. But there are some that truly have a plot and don't dwell completely on the "dress up," and sexual exploits although I don't wish to steteotype trans gender individuals this way. They have real lives they wish to live. Anyway, John Irving wrote In One Person several years ago that delves into several gender nonconforming characters. It was an interesting read and allows for some understanding, but not complete understanding of all transgenders. I even recently wrote a book titled A Secret Lies Deep that has its main character transgender. It is fictional but I wrote it sort of as a primer for those that don't quite understand them and since many want to offer a reason why they are the way they are, l offer up a possible fantasy reason for at least the main character, Eryn (Aaron).


message 7: by JAKe (new)

JAKe Hatmacher Jerry wrote: "Read what you said and don't believe it. We are taught and accept certain social function of our time. I don't need to change the rules of romance to change our outlook on life. Sexual excitement i..."

I agree with your premise about being a product of our times. And l strongly believe that being deluged with information, "good" or "bad", whether by word or visuals, subliminal or in your face, will eventually alter your views on things, that is if you are not grounded in certain beliefs. Even if you are grounded the amount of material is still hard to resist. In this day and age l think about sexual images and the like.


message 8: by Paul (new)

Paul Johnson Book wrote: "I agree with you, Mickey. It's like he's saying 40 something women don't have sex and haven't in a while. I'm 36 and I find it insulting. If the character were a man, would sex at 40 still be consi..."
Brace yourself for the vitriol to follow. Still I agree with you. I'm fed up with all things "trans", a psychological, not even sexual, dysfunction being paraded as a right that cis-gender - a term that no one, but no one used until the trans agenda - "bigots" like me won't accept. Enough! And now I'll brace myself.


message 9: by Peggy (new)

Peggy Morin So 40s is middle aged? I'm looking at 60 in three weeks. I guess that makes me really old. I certainly don't feel old, and I'm glad it's still more about how you feel. Really people?


message 10: by Jan (new)

Jan Im 72 and still enjoy romantic sex. 40 is not old. Its just a number after all. Its how you live and how you feel.


message 11: by Carole (new)

Carole Sullivan Yes, well I think his work is arrogant and I'm not eager to find out how a 40 year old woman is shocked by today's sexual mores. I'm past 60 and we baby boomers of the 60's had a hell of a lot of experiences back then and continuing into now.


message 12: by Jerry (new)

Jerry Wanager I don't know what makes a woman's body so fascinating, men are lured to them for so many different reasons. The most desirable woman I have ever lusted after was not ugly but she was close to it. That was only lust. Men do think about sex more often then Women, but fortunately thought is not action.


message 13: by Programs (new)

Programs Book wrote: "I agree with you, Mickey. It's like he's saying 40 something women don't have sex and haven't in a while. I'm 36 and I find it insulting. If the character were a man, would sex at 40 still be consi..."


message 14: by Phượng (new)

Phượng i very like book for you
chữa thoát vị đĩa đệm


message 15: by K (new)

K Alexandrakis Re: Message 12....

I disagree that men think about sex more often than women do! We, too, have frequent 'lustful thoughts' and are attracted to men for a variety of reasons. As to sex in mid-life, my father (married 4 times, many lovers in-between) said once, "women don't really get started (sexually) till their mid-30s."


message 16: by Jerry (new)

Jerry Wanager To msssK
Good to know, there is no appearent way to notice any interest except the Ora surrounding you, how about a pat on the back side once in a while.


soniajhendersongmail.com How can iI read your books?


message 18: by Jean (new)

Jean Baptiste Hi buddy!, thanks my friends for this. Jean Baptiste kind regards


message 19: by Lutfi (new)

Lutfi Shtawa thanks my friends for this. Jean baptiste kind regards....


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol Vorvain What is the best opening line from the novels you've written?
On WritersBoon.com, we are compiling an article with the best opening lines from novels written by contemporary authors.
If you'd like to submit your answer, head to https://writersboon.com/inbookish
I'd love to "expose" you:)
Carol


message 21: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Mickey wrote: "Sounds like a worthwhile book to read, but calling 40s middle age? Really? People in my generation have kids who are turning 40 with young children. Eve should have been at least 50. It would have ..."

Mickey, 40s is exactly middle-aged. Look at our current life expectancy. As of 2015 Japan is the country with the highest life expectancy. Japanese women = 86.8 years, Japanese men = 80.5 years. In the USA it's women = 81.6 years, men = 76.9 years, and in Canada it's women = 84.1 years, men = 80.2 years.


message 22: by Jim (new)

Jim Carlin "you make fun of me that I love women--they are such poor weak creatures and they give you all they got" Zorba the Greek
(the only free man) :)


message 23: by ZnajomyZnajomego (new)

ZnajomyZnajomego good!


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