Tom Perrotta’s 2017 novel, Mrs. Fletcher, is ostensibly about porn, but it’s really about disappointment. Its characters are lonely, frustrated, dispirited fragments of suburban flotsam who keep bobbing up against one another, hoping to connect. Eve Fletcher, the missus of the book’s title, is a 46-year-old divorcée whose son, in the opening chapters, leaves for college, abandoning Eve to solitary evenings of Facebook and Friends. Brendan, Eve’s son, is an amiable-ish lunk whose easy popularity in high school fails to prepare him for the byzantine politics of a campus. The book never describes Brendan watching porn, but his sex life is unmistakably contoured by its crude dialogue and misogyny. Eve, after an accidental introduction to porn, is the one whose existence is upended by it—less by its eroticism than by its promise. It offers, she thinks, “a glimpse of a better world than the one you lived in, a world where everyone secretly wanted the same thing and no one failed to get it.”
In HBO’s new adaptation of Mrs. Fletcher, created by Perrotta, Eve is played by Kathryn Hahn, an incomparable interpreter of strange female desire. The absurd Adam McKay comedy Step Brothers featured Hahn as Alice, an unhappily married woman who becomes fixated on a man-child after he punches her loathsome husband in the face. (Hahn reportedly improvised Alice’s declaration of love, in which she declares that she wants to roll her new crush up into a tiny ball and shove him up her vagina.) On Jill Soloway’s Amazon series I Love Dick, adapted from the Chris Kraus novel of the same name, Hahn played Chris, who turns her sexual obsession with an arts administrator into a manifesto of declarative lust. Both of those Hahn characters know exactly what they want, and pursue it without hesitation. Eve is different. Porn has given her a vehicle, though not yet a direction. Her voyage of sexual discovery is insular; like her biblical namesake, she simply senses that she’s been missing something crucial.