Tom Perrotta (Corsair, £13.99)

Perrotta’s comical but compassionate exploration of the contemporary sexual landscape is kicked off by the kind of utterance no mother wants to hear. It’s Brendan Fletcher’s first day of college and his mother, 46-year-old divorcee Eve, is left to rush around and fill the car up with his stuff all by herself. While she’s packing, Brendan’s on-off girlfriend drops by and nips up to his bedroom to give him a send-off he won’t forget in a hurry. On the other side of his bedroom door, Eve accidentally overhears Brendan urging his girlfriend on with crude language that could have come straight from a porn video. That her son should speak to a woman so demeaningly shocks Eve, but it’s also a sharp reminder of her own lonely, sexless life.

That uncomfortable incident, along with the arrival of a steamy text (whether intended for her or just a wrong number is unclear), prompts Eve to expand her sexual horizons. She takes to scrolling through the videos on the all-too-credibly-named website Milfeteria, initially from curiosity, but her visits become so frequent and compulsive that she wonders if she might be becoming a porn addict. Add to this Eve’s fascination with the transexual lecturer at her Gender and Society night class, and the sense of intriguing new possibilities becomes almost intoxicating. Everyday encounters are suddenly charged with an erotic potential she never considered before, leading to an awkward moment with a female work colleague at the end of a boozy evening.

Brendan, meanwhile, is exploring the hedonistic potential of college life. Perrotta doesn’t go out of his way to make us like Brendan, at least not at first. He’s a jock who swaggers around campus with neanderthal attitudes and a sense of entitlement; the kind of guy who sneers at geeks, unironically posts bare-chested photos of himself on Facebook and indulges in puerile, sexist banter with his roommate, Zack. But, like his mother, Brendan is having to negotiate his way through the minefield of early-21st Century sexuality (with porn on tap, consent issues, sexting, public shaming, transgenderism and asexuality) and he too has hard lessons to learn. As obnoxious as he is, Brendan is written by Perrotta as a teenager alone and adrift rather than a bad person at heart, moulded by a mysogynistic culture but neither entirely unsympathetic nor irredeemable.

As a man writing about a woman’s sexuality, he’s been careful to avoid lapses that might seem prurient or salacious. And, although it’s the kind of novel that could easily be taken for a satire, Perrotta seems motivated by a genuine curiosity about shifting social attitudes and the impact of technology on people’s lives. He highlights the ironies and black humour inherent in people fumbling their way through unexplored territory, but cares for his characters too much to skewer them. That he invokes an escape clause to deny himself and his readers a confrontation which would otherwise have been the shocking highlight of the book is even rather sweet.