One of the pitfalls that can come with writing a this-is-the-way-we-live-now novel is that the author will need certain characters to represent certain types, which means they come off more as devices than complex figures. Ultimately, this is the frustrating thing about Mrs. Fletcher: The points Perrotta is looking to make never feel convincing because his avatars are always so overtly manipulated.
Take Brendan. We’re told he chose his college specifically because it was a party school; it’s implied he was a gifted-enough student in high school, but is casting off his scholastic ambitions in favor of the more Hollywood-friendly aspects of campus life. This doesn’t explain, however, why he basically flunks out in his first semester, apparently unable to even comprehend the concepts being discussed. (He writes an essay, “What White Privilege Means To Me,” that the professor reads in aghast fashion. Oddly, Perrotta doesn’t let us read this character-revealing bit of prose.) Perrotta doesn’t position Brendan as a dullard until he needs him to be one.
Brendan also has a falling out with his roommate, a development that underlines the sense Perrotta is skipping over the actual story. They get along famously at the start of the semester, their douchinesses perfectly in sync, until the other guy retreats. At first, Perrotta suggests the other guy is gay (there’s a curious moment when they masturbate at the same time, in the same room, but nothing comes of this, so to speak), but then it’s revealed he’s been secretly dating a woman in a wheelchair. When Brendan learns this, the roommate confesses that he doesn’t like how he acts when they’re together.
This is a perfectly understandable reaction—or would be, if we knew the other guy better—except, why is Brendan so wounded by this? He doesn’t seem bothered by the disability, and it never really feels like his heart is in his bro-y nature. Wouldn’t he, for the sake of his friendship (or at least companionship), express openness to changing their dynamic or getting to know the woman? Or, barring that, are there really no other frat types he could become friends with (especially since he was a lacrosse star)? Instead he just gives up and loses Amber by not explaining his hurt feelings over his buddy, something she would undoubtedly sympathize with.
It all feels like a forced way to get Brendan to slink home and nearly catch his mom in a threesome with Amanda and Julian. He doesn’t (that’s the big blowup Perrotta side-steps), which just means that a lot of what was developed throughout the book—both Eve’s and Brendan’s view of sex, an ugly prank Brendan pulled on Julian years prior, which resulted in the guy dropping out of school—comes to naught. So long as you think these narrative strands are going somewhere, the book is really compelling. When you realize they’re not, it turns annoying.
It’s a measure of Perrotta’s eye for detail that one of the most compelling characters barely appears in the book. Early on, Brendan unceremoniously dumps his high school girlfriend, following a farewell bout of oral sex where his dirty talk (“suck it, bitch”) is overheard by Eve and enrages her. But how does the girlfriend feel about being told that? How does she feel about the pressure to please a guy by sexting him or watching instructional blowjob videos or swallowing his ejaculate when she doesn’t want to? That struggle, between your comfort level and what society now demands—that’s the drama Mrs. Fletcher is really probing. Perrotta rarely finds it.