Fumbling into the unknown
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.