Tom Perrotta’s novel Election, was a lot of fun, and the film version is a classic. The main character is Mr M, a married high school teacher who decides to run interference in a high school election. The almost-sure bet winner for student president is Tracy Flick. and the teacher decides Tracy should not win. Tracy Flick is an incredibly determined, driven character, and essentially, a formidable enemy. Tracy Flick Can’t Win is a follow-up novel to Election. It’s not essential to read Election first, but it certainly helps.
The novel opens with Tracy, now a divorced single parent, working as the Assistant Principal at Green Meadow High School in New Jersey. In Election, there was the sense that Tracy was going to be extremely successful, so what went wrong?
I’d always been a party of one, set apart from the other kids by the conviction–I possessed it from a very early age–that I was destined for something bigger then they were, a future that mattered. I didn’t believe that anymore–how could I, my life being what it was–but I remembered the feeling, almost like I’d been anointed by some higher authority, and I missed it sometimes.
If you read Election or watched the film, then you know that Tracy had an affair with one of her high school teachers, and that Mr. M makes it his business to see that Tracy loses the Election. One of the things I really liked about Election was the creation of the high school world of frustrated ambition, and the teachers who watch students leave for (in theory) brighter, fresher prospects than their own.
So both novels Election and Tracy Flick Can’t Win share elements of frustrated ambition within the high school setting. Tracy’s frustrations with her stalled career centre on her desire to become the new principal–after all she was acting principal during the period in which the principal, Jack Weede, recovered from a heart attack. She knows the job; she’s dedicated, so why isn’t she the preferred candidate?
Over time, it’s revealed why Tracy never had the brilliant career she (and others) expected. And it’s also a bit of a time warp to see Tracy still in high school–even if she is more or less running the place. The big dilemmas here are: 1: who will be the new principal and 2: who will be the two candidates for the Hall of Fame. One of those nominated is Vito Falcone—a former NFL player who left a trail of damaged lives in his wake. Vito, as a famous athlete, seems the obvious choice, but then that choice harks to the typical high school culture emphasis on sports.
Various voices and viewpoints form the chapters: students on the committee, the principal, a school board member, possible Hall of Famers. One of the students , Lily Chu, begins a relationship with non-binary Clem. “They were a sophomore at Wesleyan.” When I first read this I thought it was a typo.
There wasn’t much humour here and the story wrapped up rather quickly in a way that reflects our violent times. Tracy Flick was a great character in Election. Here we see her worn down by disappointment, and all that fire has mostly fizzled out.. Given the number of Perrotta’s other works that have made it to the screen, we can expect this to be adapted also.