MILF as Literature: Tom Perrotta with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Tom Perrotta. Photo by Michael Blades.

By Jamie Odeneal 

In Friday afternoon’s session “Inside the Milfateria,” writers Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Tom Perrotta discussed his most recent novel, Mrs. Fletcher. With an unflinching view, it illuminates the role of Internet pornography in in sparking, shaping, and fulfilling our deepest, darkest desires. Tan is no stranger to the topic of desire in her own writing, and her anthology Anonymous Sex, co-edited with Hillary Jordan, is a collection of erotic stories.

Perrotta began by reading an excerpt from Mrs. Fletcher in which the eponymous character, a divorced empty nester, begins an exploration into Internet pornography. Though Eve Fletcher is initially repulsed by the sight of so much naked flesh, she becomes intrigued to discover the category of “MILF porn,” a genre showcasing the desirability of mothers—ordinary women, like Eve. What begins as mere curiosity becomes an obsession as Eve goes deeper into the world of “milfateria.com.” Unlike Eve, who has lived to serve others, the women in porn act upon their desires. Observing inspires agency in Eve, who begins to see her world through a newly eroticized lens. When Eve acts upon her desires in real life, however, she experiences real-life consequences.

When Tan asked Perrotta what drew him to writing Mrs. Fletcher, he explained that his work frequently returns to the theme of sexual revolution, and a novel about pornography and its role in shaping, and even fulfilling, our desires is a continuation of that theme. Perrotta said Mrs. Fletcher grew from the idea of studying pornography as a type of cultural text. When Tan asked him about his research process and how he got into “the mind of a MILF,” Perrotta explained that viewing pornography in this context led him to take a dispassionate view of it. He focused on what type of porn would appeal to Eve as she enters this new stage in her life, as a middle-aged single mother, when she is finally able to center her own sexuality and desires.

Mrs. Fletcher is not Perrotta’s first exploration into the experiences of women. Tan and Perrotta reflected on another of his female protagonists, Tracy Flick of Election, who is driven not by lust, but by ambition. Perrotta’s forthcoming novel Tracy Flick Can’t Win catches up with Tracy as a high school principal in her mid-40s, bound and determined as ever to get what she deserves. Perrotta said that while his early novels focused on male characters, he didn’t like writing exclusively in that space, and that he’s always been interested in women’s experiences and in creating believable female characters. 

After Friday’s lively and thought-provoking discussion on Mrs. Fletcher, seminar attendees will no doubt be inspired to read and discover for themselves what happens when fantasies cross the line into real life.

Jamie Odeneal is a reader, writer, and National Board Certified teacher who works with adult English learners at an alternative public high school. She lives in Arlington, Virginia.

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