Books: “Tracy Flick Can’t Win” by Tom Perrotta
I love Tom Perrotta’s writing. I devoured “Little Children,” “Mrs. Fletcher” and “The Leftovers,” all of which were made into movies or TV series. But his most memorable character was Tracy Flick, the overly ambitious little monster from “Election,” played by Reese Witherspoon in the 1999 film co-starring Matthew Broderick.
Well, Perrotta fans: rejoice. Tracy Flick is back. As the protagonist in “Tracy Flick Can’t Win,” she plays the assistant principal at a suburban NJ high school, gunning for the top job.
Tracy has faced numerous disappointments in life after her failed run for student body president in “Election.” While at Georgetown Law School, her mother became ill, forcing Tracy to drop out and return home to tend to her. Just like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she gives up her dream of becoming the first woman president and settles for her role as an assistant vice-principal—at the very high school where she was disrespected.
Now she’s faced with another challenge: finding candidates for a harebrained scheme to create a “Hall of Fame” award for illustrious alumni. Only problem: none of the contenders for the award is especially illustrious. One of them, Vito Falcone, was a HS football hero who briefly went pro before he got injured. In addition to that disappointment, Vito married and divorced three women, each of whom he cheated on, and now faces an onset of CTE from playing football.
Will Tracy be promoted? Will Vito get into the Hall of Fame? The book cleverly captures the small-ball politics of suburban high-school administration as well as the disappointments of people who aim high but never quite make it.
It’s easy to assume that Tracy Flick is a stand-in for Hillary Clinton, the uber-competent A-student nobody loves, and that the school administrators and Vito Falcones of the world are the pale males scheming to derail her. It would equally facile to assume this is another story of a glass ceiling yet to be broken.
But kindly discard such assumptions and make your way to the nearest library for “Tracy Flick Can’t Win.” You’ll read it and return this warm, witty novel so fast, the librarian will ask, “Were you a speed reader in HS, too?”