Monday, March 20, 2023

Books I've Read: Tracy Flick Can't Win


I saw this one at the library and just couldn't say no.  I loved Election, both the book and the film, so this one was a must-read for me.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I wanted to.  Part of what made Election so much fun was how desperately ambitious Tracy was, and how relentlessly she went after what she wanted.  I know it's probably realistic that she's mellowed a bit over time, but this Tracy seemed to have very little in common with the Tracy in the first book.

This Tracy is still living in the hometown she grew up in, and is still, in fact, at the same same high school, now as the assistant principal.  She's divorced and has a daughter she's not that close to and few friends.  Her mother, who she considered her best friend, has died after a long illness that Tracy nursed her through rather than finishing her law degree.

When the principal announces he's retiring, Tracy knows she wants the job.  She thinks she's a shoo in, but just to be sure, supports one of the bigwigs on the school board with his grand plan to create a hall of fame for past students.  

The book follows Tracy and the various members of the committee pulling together the hall of fame, plus some potential honourees as the plan to build this edifice is pulled together.  As you can imagine, nothing goes quite as planned.

I found this book a quick and easy read, but it was depressing, not comical.  Tracy is a shell of the person she used to be, ground down by disappointment and routine.  All that spark and ambition and relentless cheer is gone.  She has no regrets about the past and what happened, just a kind of wistfulness that her life didn't turn out the way she wanted it to.  I suspect underneath her good cheer and acceptance is a raging beast full of fury, but it doesn't ever really come out...  There's a single glimpse of it at one point, but it's kind of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment.

I suppose it's realistic.  Life does grind you down and few people are as bright eyed and confident in their dreams and ambitions at 50 as they were at 15. But that's not that fun to read about, really...

So, if you were a fan of Election, I'd suggest you give this one a miss...  It's not a whole lot of fun.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

An “engrossing and mordantly funny” ( People ) novel about ambition, coming-of-age in adulthood, and never really leaving high school politics behind—featuring New York Times bestselling author Tom Perrotta’s most iconic character of all time.

Tracy Flick is a hardworking assistant principal at a public high school in suburban New Jersey. Still ambitious but feeling a little stuck and underappreciated in midlife, Tracy gets a jolt of good news when the longtime principal, Jack Weede, abruptly announces his retirement, creating a rare opportunity for Tracy to ascend to the top job.

Energized by the prospect of her long-overdue promotion, Tracy throws herself into her work with renewed zeal, determined to prove her worth to the students, faculty, and School Board, while also managing her personal life—a ten-year-old daughter, a needy doctor boyfriend, and a burgeoning meditation practice.

But nothing ever comes easily to Tracy Flick, no matter how diligent or qualified she happens to be. Her male colleagues’ determination to honor Vito Falcone—a star quarterback of dubious character who had a brief, undistinguished career in the NFL—triggers memories for Tracy and leads her to reflect on the trajectory of her own life. As she considers the past, Tracy becomes aware of storm clouds brewing in the present. Is she really a shoo-in for the principal job? Is the Superintendent plotting against her? Why is the School Board President’s wife trying so hard to be her friend? And why can’t she ever get what she deserves?

A sharp, darkly comic, and pitch-perfect chronicle of the second act of one of the most memorable characters of our time, Tracy Flick Can’t Win “delivers acerbic insight about frustrated ambition.

1 comment:

  1. That does sound depressing. The thing I remember most about Election was the energy it had. I'm guessing the author is feeling some things about aging.