Tom Perrotta Returns to Familiar Turf: Sex, Schools and Suburbia

He seemed cheerful and relaxed, perhaps because he was coming off a monthslong sabbatical of sorts, following a brutally intense period of work when he was finishing the novel and also writing the final season of the HBO show “The Leftovers,” adapted from his book. “I was exhausted, and I haven’t done anything with my life for the last six months,” he said.

While he was working on “The Leftovers,” which he created with Damon Lindelof, Mr. Perrotta commuted between the Boston suburb where he lives and Los Angeles, spending two weeks at a time on each coast. On weekends and during breaks between the show’s seasons, he chipped away at “Mrs. Fletcher,” which he began working on in fits and starts in late 2013.

Mr. Perrotta originally planned to focus the novel on Eve, and aimed to write a tight novella from her perspective, but as soon as he got to the scene where she drops her son off at college, he wanted to follow Brendan — a bratty jock who behaves contemptuously toward the women around him. “Part of this cultural moment is that guys like this are being vilified, but they’re all over the place, and you don’t see them much in fiction,” he said.

Thematically, “Mrs. Fletcher” overlaps with his earlier works, including “Little Children,” “The Abstinence Teacher” and “Joe College,” which take place on school campuses and in suburban neighborhoods, and often explore the culture wars and the friction that arises when the gap between people’s public and private selves is exposed.

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Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux in the series finale of “The Leftovers,” which Mr. Perrotta helped adapt from his novel of the same title.

Credit
Ben King/HBO

The subject of sex on college campuses has never been more charged, and Mr. Perrotta wades into current controversies about hookup culture, sexting and dating apps and consent, and he uses terminology like “cisgender,” “dysphoria,” “heteronormative” and “performativity,” both in conversation and in his writing.

“What I became very conscious of was that there are these two levels of discourse about sex, this high-minded academic discourse, which is about re-evaluating gender, challenging the patriarchy, focusing on consent and sexual assault, and underneath it is this porn thing, which is full of old stereotypes; weird, racially charged fantasies; women…

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