April 24, 2020

Mrs. Fletcher


I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend a bad book, but it’s possible that there is something of a hidden “metatheme” here, one relevant to the Waferian perception of America:


The story (not much of a plot, really) takes place in middle-class suburbia, focusing on the lives of a woman and her teenage son, both of whom are basically boring. Almost all the characters are pretty shallow, like cardboard cutouts; their lives, their preoccupations, are banal. The only thing that seems to interest them is sex, which shows up in some fairly weird expressions. Plus gender issues, and a good dose of pornography. As one Amazon reviewer wrote, the book goes nowhere, ultimately says nothing. Admitted, it is something of a page-turner; but when you finish it, you wonder why you even bothered to read it. (In my case, I’m a fan of Tom Perrotta.)

Unless the point of the whole thing is the shallowness of American life; that this is the “metatheme” Perrotta was trying to convey. In other words, that this was intentional on the author’s part, to show how empty and clueless Americans are; how most of them are on autopilot, living lives that can only be called stupid and meaningless. Now wouldn’t that be a curve ball!

I’m only guessing, of course. In the case of my own fiction, I don’t sit down with a specific intention, or “syllabus,” in mind. Rather, I literally go into a trance; the stories or novels are “channeled,” as it were, and the ending is organic, i.e. emerges from the text itself. The writing just pours out; I have no idea what I’m going to say until I’ve said it. It feels like my hand is writing the text, not my brain. I just lay down one sentence after another. Hence, the unconscious factor is pretty large.

So what was going on with Perrotta when he was writing Mrs. Fletcher? Did he explicitly, deliberately, want to paint a portrait of the emptiness of American life, or did that fall out unconsciously, in a trance? One might argue that it doesn’t matter, but if the answer is the latter, then the book strikes me as a very powerful statement. It means that the author was not trying to prove anything; rather, his unconscious “imbibed” the social context of American life, as a result of living in it, and then spat out an X-ray of who we are: nothings, sad and pathetic beings, narcissistic beyond all imagining. If that is the case, this rather tedious book might be regarded as a classic of declinist literature.