Election the movie, these critics mean, not the novel.
Tracy reinterpreters never bring up the book except to dismiss it as the lesser work.
I’d argue that it’s actually better—leaner, less broadly farcical, its characters more layered, its traps more subtle.
The book consists of a series of monologues, each a master class in misdirection, self-justification, and the occasional glimmer of self-awareness.
Perrotta’s Tracy doesn’t come off as sympathetic, exactly.
But we learn about her threadbare life and the single mother who assiduously cultivates her daughter’s quest for success—the movie barely mentions them—and we’re given inklings of the pain that makes Tracy hold her chin so high.
In short, Perrotta never sells Tracy out for a laugh.
Payne, however, never stops playing Tracy for laughs, starting with the opening credits: While they roll, we watch her unfolding her campaign table with a slapstick militarism.
The table legs slice upward like rifles being raised for an execution.
They snap into place with sharp cracks.
By contrast, the novel opens with the history teacher setting himself up for a fall.
Mr. M (the book’s version of Mr. McAllister) is one of those cool teachers who perch on their desk and keep everything relevant.
He’s trying to eke out a civics lesson from a notorious rape case involving football players, a broomstick, and a developmentally disabled girl.
When his students side with the jocks, he asks, “Don’t the strong have a responsibility not to hurt or humiliate the weak?”
Moments afterward, he’ll set in motion his plot to hurt and humiliate Tracy.
The way he sees it, he’s the weak one; Tracy’s a blitzkrieg.
“She was a steamroller,” he says. “I wanted to slow her down before she flattened the whole school.”
With Tracy Flick can’t Win, the sequel to Election the novel, Perrotta joins the ranks of the revisionists.
The new book is harsher than the earlier one, reflecting the uglier tenor of our times, as well as, I suspect, Perrotta’s desire to clear up any possible confusion about whose side he’s on.
You will not close this book commiserating with the likes of Mr. M.
Nor will you wonder whether you missed the nuances.
Tracy Flick Can’t Win is frankly didactic.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Satire has always had an admonitory function, and besides, some people are so obnoxious that a writer has to slow-walk the reader through their awfulness.
Plus, Perrotta has what it takes to revisit the past without being predictable.