The cover of Mrs. Fletcher depicts a woman alone in bed holding a smartphone, her face illuminated by the screen’s glare. If a copy of this book somehow managed to make its way back to the mid-2000s, the pre-iPhone era, it would seem almost inscrutable; it takes place in a world where people’s lives are ruled by their smartphones, the devices serving as a source of entertainment as well as vehicles for miscommunication and misunderstandings. The only way Mrs. Fletcher could be more up-to-the-minute would be if Tom Perrotta had somehow worked in a reference to Donald Trump’s Tweets. (The novel, presumably written pre-November 2016, takes place in a blessedly Trump-free universe.)
Ambitiously, Perrotta is trying to capture The Way We Live Now, from college students up to retirees. Stuck in the middle is Eve Fletcher, a divorced empty nester whose son Brandon is struggling to adapt to college life. Eve works as the executive director of a senior center, “a place where low-income seniors could come to eat a federally subsidized meal and then get their blood pressure checked by a nurse and their problem toenails trimmed by a kindhearted podiatrist.” She enjoys her job and is proud of the work she does, but at the same time, she feels bored and lonely and in desperate need of a change.
The book features rapidly shifting points of view, switching from third-person sections focusing on Eve and her colleagues and friends to first-person chapters narrated by Brandon. He is kind of a stereotypical teenage lunkhead, far more interested in partying and hooking up than he is in actually learning things or planning for his future. His roommate Zack’s arc is actually more compelling than his own, even though Zack is only a tertiary character in the novel.
As for Eve Fletcher herself, she finds herself in a strange situation—addicted to Internet porn—after an anonymous text pops up on her phone: “U r my MILF! Send me a naked pic!” Despite being indifferent to porn in the past, she now finds herself checking out MILF porn on Milfateria.com on a regular basis: “She disapproved of the site—she would have been horrified if she’d ever found anything like it on her son’s computer—and sincerely wished it didn’t exist. But she couldn’t stop looking at it.” (In the real world, Milfateria.com only exists as a parked domain at GoDaddy; it appears to have been registered by Steven Brykman, who has interviewed Perrotta in the past, so I’m guessing he’s a friend or acquaintance of the writer. I kind of wish they had done something fun with the domain, even if they’d only posted an image of Stifler’s Mom.)
Eve also goes back to college to take a gender-studies class, which leads her to make some new friends, though things ultimately go a little sideways, as Perrotta fans might expect. Like most of his novels, Mrs. Fletcher is an easy, breezy read, if perhaps a bit overstuffed with characters (the fact that two of the primary females in the book are named Amanda and Amber caused me a few moments of confusion). Now that the HBO series based on his 2011 novel The Leftovers has come to an end, I’m glad Perrotta has returned to chronicling the highs and lows of middle-class, middle-aged American life.