Fum­bling into the un­known

The Herald Magazine - - ARTS BOOKS -

Tom Perrotta

with a fe­male work col­league at the end of a boozy evening.

Bren­dan, mean­while, is ex­plor­ing the he­do­nis­tic po­ten­tial of col­lege life. Perrotta doesn’t go out of his way to make us like Bren­dan, at least not at first. He’s a jock who swag­gers around cam­pus with ne­an­derthal at­ti­tudes and a sense of en­ti­tle­ment; the kind of guy who sneers at geeks, uniron­i­cally posts bare-chested pho­tos of him­self on Face­book and in­dulges in puerile, sex­ist ban­ter with his room­mate Zack. But, like his mother, Bren­dan is hav­ing to ne­go­ti­ate his way through the mine­field of early 21st-cen­tury sex­u­al­ity (with porn on tap, con­sent is­sues, sex­ting, pub­lic sham­ing, trans­gen­derism and asex­u­al­ity) and he too has hard lessons to learn. As ob­nox­ious as he is, Bren­dan is writ­ten by Perrotta as a teenager alone and adrift rather than a bad per­son at heart, moulded by a mysog­y­nis­tic cul­ture but nei­ther en­tirely un­sym­pa­thetic nor ir­re­deemable.

As a man writ­ing about a woman’s sex­u­al­ity, he has been care­ful to avoid lapses that might seem pruri­ent or sala­cious. And, al­though it’s the kind of novel that could eas­ily be taken for a satire, Perrotta seems mo­ti­vated by a gen­uine cu­rios­ity about shift­ing so­cial at­ti­tudes and the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy on peo­ple’s lives. He high­lights the ironies and black hu­mour in­her­ent in peo­ple fum­bling their way through un­ex­plored ter­ri­tory, but cares for his char­ac­ters too much to skewer them. That he in­vokes an es­cape clause to deny him­self and his read­ers a con­fronta­tion which would oth­er­wise have been the shock­ing high­light of the book is even rather sweet.

ALAS­TAIR MABBOTT

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