Tracy Flick Can’t Win (Scribner, June), a sequel to Perrotta’s Election, catches up with Perrotta’s eponymous high school overachiever in middle age.
Election was published in 1998. Why did you think the time was ripe for a sequel?
Election never really went away. Over the past couple of decades, many of its subjects—female ambition, sexual misbehavior by teachers, disputed vote counts—have moved from the margins to the center of our culture.
Tracy Flick has become an iconic heroine, first in the pages of your book, then as embodied by Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne’s 1999 adaptation. How do you account for her enduring popularity?
I have to give Reese Witherspoon a huge amount of credit—her electric performance is what turned Tracy into an icon. But Tracy Flick was an unusual character in her own right—at the time I wrote Election, I wasn’t aware of many novels or movies that featured a female politician at any level.
As an author, what draws you to characters that exhibit weak, craven, or self-deceiving characteristics?
My job is to understand my characters, not to judge them. And as far as I’ve been able to determine, weakness and self-deception are pretty much endemic in the human population.
You begin the new book with a link between Tracy’s affair with one of her high school teachers in Election and the #MeToo movement, which didn’t exist when the first book was written.
Tracy’s thrown off balance by the #MeToo movement. It challenges her belief that she was never a victim, that everything that happened between her and the teacher was consensual. Like a lot of women, #MeToo made her go back and reexamine parts of her past that she would have preferred not to think about.
Your book deals with questions of sex, race, gender identity, mental illness, student-teacher relationships, bullying, and CTE. How did you manage to fit it all in fewer than 300 pages?
Right now schools are at the center of our national politics. Everything that troubles us as a country gets litigated in an educational context. So any novel that examines high school in a serious way will come in contact with all these hot-button topics.
Much of the novel deals with the creation of a high school’s Hall of Fame. How would you feel about being including if your high school had its own Hall of Fame?
I’m a proud member of my high school’s Hall of Fame.
Will we be hearing from Tracy Flick again in the future?
You never know with Tracy.