I passed by Little Children the first time I saw it in the bookstore. It had recently been made into a film,which I had not seen, but I already knew that it was about parents of small children, dissatisfied with their lives, drifting into an affair. I found the subject matter uninspiring; I set the book back on its shelf and walked away. I don't know what brought me back, weeks or months later, but I found myself reading it one night, falling deeper and deeper in the story. Once I began reading I had to keep going until I had reached the end, the way I used to draw one deep breath and then swim from one end of the pool to the other in one long, smooth, glide. Through Perrotta's words I fell into that hot summer, that summer when Sarah and Brad's lives intersect at the playground where they take their children, beginning with that first kiss in front of the other mothers, the beginning of their affair during an afternoon thundershower. (Affairs always seem to begin during or after a storm, when everyone gets wet and has to change out of their damp clothes, somehow never quite making it into dry ones).
I realized quite suddenly that I understood Sarah better than I thought I would, as soon as I read the first page, and how she thought, I'm a researcher studying the behavior of boring suburban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself. I am a long way from being any kind of mother, let alone a suburban one, but I recognize Sarah's fear that she would become one of those woman, the ones who schedule time each week to have sex with their husbands, who spend their days at the playground with their children and the other mothers, who can't remember the titles of movies they'd seen or praise everything as being "cute." It sent a shiver of awareness to see that she was the kind of mother I can imagine becoming, the one who forgets her daughter's snacks, the one who felt that at twenty-six that she was a failure, a "painfully ordinary person...destined to live a painfully ordinary life." I have that fear, too, and I am twenty-six (for just one more month).
Now I can feel a sort of sadness for Sarah, "plain and frazzled-looking," in sharp contrast to her lover's wife, tall and thin and glamorous in her jean shorts and bikini top, "one of those girls, the ones from high school who made you stick your finger down your throat after lunch, the ones who made you look in the mirror and cry." I can't understand feeling that way, but I can understand that feeling that Sarah has stumbled into the monotony of her life, almost as though she had been sleepwalking into marriage with Richard, sleepwalking into motherhood, that her life has just happened to her without her actually living it. And when she woke up she realizes that this is not the life she wanted, but she doesn't know how to make it any other way, until the end, when she realizes that a life with just her and her daughter can be something real, more real than her fantasy of having a new life with her lover, which will never happen.
Perrotta, Tom. Little Children. St. Martin's Griffin, 2004. pp 3, 12, 257, 187.