Tracy Flick is back and, once again, the iconic protagonist of Tom Perrotta’s Election—and Reese Witherspoon’s character from the classic movie adaptation—is determined to take high school politics by storm.
... 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.