One of my favorite things about reading a very satisfying novel is reaching the last page and feeling that bittersweet sensation of the end of the story, while having the distinct feeling that somehow or another, the characters’ lives will continue beyond the pages of the book.
Think for a moment how amazing it is, that someone not only made you believe in the existence of entirely fictional creations, but that you came to care about what would happen to them in future that they don’t because, again, these people are fully made up.
Sometimes though, years later, we get the chance to check in with these characters because a writer decides it’s time for a sequel.
Currently, it is the case of the indelible character of Tracy Flick, in the new “Tracy Flick Can’t Win”, which was created for the first time by Tom Perrotta in “Election” in 1998.
Things are complicated when it comes to Tracy Flick because our image of her is inextricably linked to Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal in Alexander Payne’s film adaptation of the book. However, Perrotta’s creation is not the same as Payne’s interpretation. The Tracy Flick of “Election” and “Tracy Flick Can’t Win” is much more likable than the film, mainly because the medium of fiction allows us to access Tracy’s interior in a way that the film cannot match.
I’ve enjoyed being able to check in with Tracy nearly a quarter of a century after we first met, and I recommend “Tracy Flick Can’t Win” to anyone who enjoys the original book, movie, or other novels by Perrotta. And yet, I can’t help but feel that the literary sequel is, by design, almost destined to disappoint.
I should be clear on how I define a sequel in this case, and that I think there is a distinction to be made between a “series” and a “sequel”. A series is a group of related books where volumes later than the first were part of the original design. “The Song of Ice and Fire” by George RR Martin is a series. Elena Ferrante’s “Neapolitan novels” are also a series.
To say “Tracy Flick Can’t Win” is disappointing is no comment on the quality of Perrotta’s book. I could say the same for Richard Russo’s 2016 follow-up “Everybody’s Fool,” 1993’s “Nobody’s Fool,” or Elizabeth Strout’s 2019 “Olive Again,” which followed her award-winning “Olive Kitteridge.” Pulitzer Prize, 2008.
In each case, I eagerly dove into the sequels, and even enjoyed them, but I can’t help but admit – for me especially – that they didn’t engender the same depth of connection as the originals.
There are probably many reasons for this. For one, the first installments of each of these books are some of my all-time favorite reads. The authors set the bar very high that would be difficult for anyone to cross a second time. For two, I’m a different person than I was when I read the originals. The role of time, place, and personal state of mind in how one receives a book is often underestimated and overlooked.
But I think the main reason for a certain sense of disappointment is that putting the details of a story into a sequel ends the fun of imagining the endless possibilities of a character that we experience at the end of a story. particularly gripping.
Perhaps there is simply more enjoyment in believing that a fictional character is out in the world living their lives than in seeing the details of what those lives have become, no matter how skillfully those details are rendered.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities”.
Biblioracle book recommendations
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you read
1. “A gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles
2. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
3. “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
4. “The secret life of bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
5. “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
—Danielle T., Los Angeles
I think collectively these books have sold about 15 million copies, so I’m going to recommend a book that I think deserves that kind of readership, but hasn’t reached it yet, “Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon.
1. “The Quiet American” by Graham Greene
2. “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyne Waugh
3. “Atonement” by Ian McEwan
4. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt
5. “Inner Story” by Martin Amis
—Lance T., Chicago
A little Anglophile here, which is interesting, and which justifies me restricting my choice. I think Lance will enjoy the spirit and spirit of David Lodge’s “Changing Places,” and if he likes it, there are two other books in Lodge’s campus trilogy, “Small World” and “Nice Work “.
1. “Sankofa” by Chibundu Onuzo
2. “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle
3. “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng
4. “Matrix” by Lauren Groff
5. “People we meet on vacation” by Emily Henry
— Diane P., Naperville
If Diane hasn’t already had the pleasure of diving into the emotional waters of Rebecca Makkai’s “The Great Believers,” she’s in for a treat.
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