... even more piercing than its predecessor ... The cast includes a former athlete, a rich tech guy, a long-suffering admin, two students and the school principal. All are exquisitely drawn ... Few novelists are better than Perrotta at conveying the full spectrum of human delusion ... Perrotta veers off in an ingenious third direction. Life suddenly, and startlingly, comes to match the intensity of Tracy’s vision of it.
Tracy Flick Can’t Win finds the titular Flick still at Green Meadow but now looking to become principal of her former high school. One of a small pool of candidates, the conceit may seem like a retread of Election but instead becomes akin to a convincingly rendered meta-autopsy of Perrotta’s first full-length plot ... Perrotta seeks to temper the antihero allure that’s long been associated with the young Flick by delivering a sequel that probes at the fabric of what it means to have a legacy — and what say we each get in defining it ... Perrotta challenges readers to rethink our own assessments of Flick ... Humorous yet humane, the prescient, darkly comical Tracy Flick Can’t Win is a sequel that ultimately proves worthy of its star character’s return by infusing Flick with an urgent new sense of agency. Actions, as they say, have consequences.
Perrotta joins the ranks of the revisionists. The new book is harsher than the earlier one, reflecting the uglier tenor of our times, as well as, I suspect, Perrotta’s desire to clear up any possible confusion about whose side he’s on. You will not close this book commiserating with the likes of Mr. M. Nor will you wonder whether you missed the nuances. Tracy Flick Can’t Win is frankly didactic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Satire has always had an admonitory function, and besides, some people are so obnoxious that a writer has to slow-walk the reader through their awfulness. Plus, Perrotta has what it takes to revisit the past without being predictable ... Perrotta is simply more enthralled by how men school one another than he is by anything else. His dialogue is never as exuberant as when his guys talk guy talk ... replaces sexual spectacle with football mania. It’s equally unedifying ... Perrotta doesn’t write only about men, of course. His female protagonists probably outnumber the male ones, and they’re perfectly well drawn. But they’re not quite as interesting. They’re better people, smarter, more self-aware, nicer—too nice, perhaps ... Perrotta’s female protagonists are stymied, but his male protagonists are stunted, often in ways that lead straight to disaster. The best of them realize they’ve got to recover their humanity. Perrotta makes that look pretty hard.
... ruminative ... in both novels, the humor is a subtle indictment ... Perrotta often is billed as a comic novelist, but he has become our patron saint of suburban melancholy. He knows so well how little worlds can generate their own unbearable pressures. Despite his steadily rising success — novels! movies! TV shows! — he demonstrates an intense empathy for the anguish experienced “by those who ne’er succeed.” Moving through short chapters, mostly narrated in the first person by a rotating collection of characters, Tracy Flick Can’t Win offers a sobering vision of lives marinating in regret ... The ending depends on a perverse kind of deus ex machina that some readers will consider too melodramatic. But that’s for us to argue about after you’ve read it. For the moment, suffice it to say that although Witherspoon’s note-perfect performance may never be forgotten, Perrotta has reclaimed the name Tracy Flick from the bucket of misogynist punchlines.
Returning to the hits for a sequel isn’t typically a good idea in literature ... Tracy Flick Can’t Win has its flaws: a few too many hot button issues glibly tossed into the mix without real exploration and an over-the-top melodramatic, action-oriented ending. Yet even as the climax distracts and detracts from a thoughtful, intimate book, the novel earns its keep because Perrotta has reclaimed Tracy Flick from the movie version. She is still 'moving forward, focusing on the task at hand,' but here she’s a richly rounded character enduring a quintessential modern American struggle ... You needn’t have read Election to enjoy Tracy Flick Can’t Win as Perrotta doles out just the right amount of backstory without bogging down in exposition. (That said, it’s still worth reading) ... Perrotta’s bite-sized chapters and light touch means the book is easy to swallow but there’s still plenty of meat to chew on ... In Tracy Flick Can’t Win Perrotta is probably less subtle in his social commentary than he was the first time around ... Despite Perrotta’s disappointing climax, in the end, maybe Tracy Flick finally will win.
... darkly comic ... Perrotta has nearly all the plot points in place to drive the novel to its shattering conclusion ... brilliant, biting satire. Perrotta never belabors a point or uses more words than absolutely necessary even as he takes on society’s most intractable problems, including racism, gun violence and toxic masculinity. Indeed, the novel is so lean and taut it almost reads like a screenplay, leading one to wonder whether Witherspoon would ever reprise her role as the inimitable Tracy Flick.
It’s so disappointing to find Tracy Flick, in Tracy Flick Can’t Win, stuck as the assistant principal in a suburban New Jersey high school ... Of course, my own disappointment can’t hold a candle to Tracy’s. Perrotta, a specialist in suburban malaise, all too plausibly lays out how the aspirations of a talented Georgetown scholarship student can be waylaid by bad luck and economic precarity ... Perrotta has clearly given a lot of thought to who Tracy Flick really is, what she means to readers, and what a new version of her story might accomplish in 2022. It’s a shame that this thoughtful revisiting comes wrapped in such a shoddily plotted story ... Tracy Flick Can’t Win is a mess: Eight different characters share the novel’s focus, with some grabbing the mic to speak to us directly, and others, like Vito, having their thoughts delivered in third person...Characters disappear for a hundred pages only to return at crucial moments, and Perrotta spends inordinate time setting up crucial-seeming subplots...that are essentially abandoned. The result is a novel consisting of dozens of threads, only a few of which are woven together in the novel’s very unsurprising conclusion.
What does it mean to be special? What is the nature of success, of failure? Election was lightly interested in these topics, but Tracy Flick Can’t Win pores over them like an honors student before midterms ... The election plot, dusted off and sent back to work, affords an opportunity to revisit not only Tracy but the earlier book’s suggestions about who deserves what ... Perrotta’s sympathies often flow toward the margins of his fiction, where some of his most interesting characters dwell ... What results is a somewhat cursory treatment of race—one that’s emblematic of the novel’s tasting-menu approach to hot-button topics ... football’s concussion crisis and the political neglect of public education. These gestures, though, amount to little more than flickers on a radar screen, and a similar quality wilts Perrotta’s appraisal of élitism ... This is a cogent deconstruction of the novel’s premise, but it exists at such a distance from the characters we care about, and whom we want to thrive on their own terms, that it feels merely cosmetic. The caveat duly registered, Perrotta retreats, immersing us back in the pleasures of his plot ... That plot’s object is to redeem Tracy, and its climax is a feat of heroism that feels imported from a Marvel comic. Her exoneration thrilled me; I imagine that many readers will feel the same. But the effort of recuperation wears on the book. The aftertaste of a voguish feminism, one that casts all women as misunderstood saviors, lingers. Perrotta’s step seems surest when his characters’ saintliness—or, better yet, their miscreance—doesn’t lie quite so close to the surface ... Perrotta wrings pathos from needs met and passed over, conducting a symphony of unruly yearnings, delusions, and dramatic ironies ... Perrotta has retrieved and transvalued her, encouraged readers to root for her, and, finally, allowed her to win. If only he had allowed her to live.
Perrotta is one of the most readable novelists we have ... Everything works here except a ripped-from-the-headlines denouement. Something a little less dramatic would have worked better. Perrotta is a novelist whose best stuff is made of little ultra-realistic moments, not big thriller-type plot development. The ending ties things up a little too neatly when something low-key would have worked better ... a deeply humanist work by a master of observation.
Right off the bat, and to its credit, Tracy Flick Can’t Win acknowledges Election’s fundamental ickiness ... more than just a hasty rewrite of an outmoded, potentially outrageous book. Perrotta loves nothing more than tossing characters into a moral deep end, sitting back and letting readers watch them thrash and splutter; this builds both sympathy and schadenfreude, since who among us can claim to have all the answers? We’re all damaged by the past, and we’re doing the best we can in the present. If nothing else, his latest book confirms what many of us have always secretly suspected. Adulthood, Perrotta suggests, is forged in the crucible of high school, and we spend the rest of our lives torn between trying to transcend our adolescent selves and trying to preserve them. In that sense, Tracy Flick is, despite her insistence, utterly ordinary, after all.
Perrotta serves up his signature black comedy and shrewd wit in an expertly paced novel of great cleverness and charm ... One of Perrotta's talents is obviously forming character. Tracy is delightfully complex; Principal Weede has secrets of his own, and a touching vulnerability as well as some less admirable qualities. Kyle is not well liked, but his attempts to compensate offer comic opportunities. The aging star quarterback nominated for the Hall of Fame, Vito Falcone, is now a recovering alcoholic working on making amends, his process by turns pitiful and hilarious. And the high school's much-loved, longtime front desk lady, Diane, is perhaps the novel's most rewarding surprise ... These points of view paint Green Meadow--and Tracy--in different lights, and allow Perrotta's comedic zings to shine ... many things: of-the-moment cultural criticism, a darkly comic drama of human relationships in suburbia, a moving sendup and a novel of racing momentum. By its end, Tracy is headed either for the triumph she's been seeking since she was a high school student, or a meltdown the likes of which Green Meadow has never seen--or maybe both ... Perrotta's classic combination of insight, humor and empathy is perhaps perfected in Tracy Flick Can't Win. This novel has something for both the reader with a gimlet eye on the real world and the reader seeking an escape from it.
In this culturally savvy sequel to his enduring best-seller, Election (1998), and its wildly popular film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon, Perrotta again tells a smart, entertaining story from multiple perspectives, oral-history style. The breeziness of the pacing provides tart counterpoint to weightier themes of adultery, ambition, atonement, and revenge which Perrotta handles with a deft but determined satiric touch.
... harp and perfectly executed ... As ever, Perrotta writes incisively from several different points of view, illuminating the frustrated inner lives of his characters; call it Winesburg, N.J. Dominating it all is Tracy, whom the reader comes to understand better even through her cringeworthy machinations. This is the rare sequel that lives up to the original.
... the plot unfolds with the you-are-there feel of a documentary, or mockumentary perhaps, though the generally arch tone is belied by a not-so-funny ending ... Once again, characters you shouldn’t like at all become strangely sympathetic in Perrotta’s hands. Adulterers, egotists, bullies—well, we all make mistakes. As much as forgiveness seems the explicit theme of the book, its evil twin, revenge, burbles menacingly beneath the surface, and the ending is a shocker ... Nobody told this master of dark comedy there are things you can’t make jokes about. Watch him try.