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Tracy Flick Can’t Win, by Tom Perrotta

Principal Jack Weede is finally going to retire from Green Meadow High School, and he assures Tracy, his loyal vice-principal, that she is a shoo-in for the spot. Tracy begins schmoozing all the right people, even though it goes against her introverted nature. She begins with the school board president, who throws out the idea of a GMHS Hall of Fame, to which Tracy, eager to seem positive, says, um, sure. The whole town is eager to fete the former football hero, while Tracy had thought that there were so many more important achievements to celebrate. When she lets out the slightest hint of her thoughts on the award, the whole promotion process begins to unravel.

Nothing comes easily to Tracy Flick. As Perrotta says at one point, everyone respects Tracy, but no one really likes her. In his 1998 novel, Election, she had been raped by a GMHS teacher at the age of fifteen and has been living under a cloud of suspicion ever since. Surely it had to be her fault. Now, decades later, she is a well-educated, middle-aged woman who has been carrying the load for the aging principal while raising her daughter mostly on her own. She is due.

I listened to an audiobook of this title, and the protagonist has a very familiar voice for this Elementary fan: Lucy Liu. Most of the other chapters are read by various male voices, and each of Perrotta’s characters is well-rounded and believable. The author views his people and the world they inhabit with a jaundiced eye, sometimes sympathetic, but often with a bite of sarcasm. Tracy herself is a very flawed character, and yet the reader still roots for her, cheering when she battles forward, then cringing when she trips again. The fact that Tracy still works in the same place where her most traumatic days took place is both troubling and revealing.

The author takes on the patriarchy and the #MeToo Movement so convincingly that I looked him up to make sure that Tom wasn’t short for Thomasina or something. (It’s not.) Beyond the skillfully entwined themes, though, Tracy Flick Can’t Win is a great read, just the kind of engaging novel to pack in your beach bag.

Disclaimer: I listened to an “advance listening copy” audiobook of this novel, provided by @Libro.fm and Simon and Schuster Audio. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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