Thursday, 8 March 2012

A Year in Books 2012 - The Abstinence Teacher

Tom Perrotta writes novels set in suburban America, not a lot happens in them , but what you do get is great everyday people studies with characters who all have shades of grey. The 2 most famous ones were turned into quirky films , Election and his best book Little Children (the film version made Kate Winslet appear believable as a slightly frumpy housewife)

In his latest novel Perrotta tackles the thorny subject of religion's increasing influence on Amercian society, choosing to do so through the stories of high school teacher Ruth and football (the proper football) coach Tim, who are on opposite sides of the religious divide.

Ruth, the biology teacher , makes a casual off hand remark in sex education about some people enjoying oral sex and finds herself the focal point of a new christian church's, lead by the Pastor Dennis, protests. As a result she is forced to teach the abstinence syllabus while privately horrified with the ignorance she feels it promotes.

Tim on the other hand is a born again christian , an musician, with a failed marriage and a drug dependency to recover from , he feels he has literally been saved and found new purpose in the church of Pastor Dennis

Things come to a head when Tim holds an impromptu prayer session at the end of one of his team's matches , a team for who Ruth's daughter plays.

The scene is therefore set for a theological battle held in the arena of middle and working class America. However, things don't pan out that way as relationships become intertwined and both parties begin to question their motives.

The expected fireworks therefore never actually appear although there are consequences for both Ruth's and Tim's actions.

It would have been easy to create cartoon characters in terms of Pastor Dennis and his followers but Perrotta is careful to keep things balanced. He is great and making Tim and Ruth three dimensional  although he fails to shed any light on what drives the Pastor beyond a blind belief 

Is there a winner , well that would be too big a spoiler , but the ending is ambiguous enough for you to form your own view

In some ways the book follows a similar them of Little Children although this time it is religion rather than sex that provides the initial catalyst and although not as good as Little Children there is enough to want to know what happens next

you can buy the Abstinence Teacher here


  1. I love Election and Little Children was great . I must confess to not reading the books they orginiated from . I'm looking foward to reading ' a perfectly good man by patrick gale . Although I havent enjoyed his later books as much as his earilier ones . I think i'll still give it a go .

  2. Hi Jay

    Little children is a great book, and the film an equally good adaptation. I've not read any Patrick Gale - ashamed to say I've been put off by the covers. If you had to pick one to start with which would it be?

  3. I loved 'Rough Music' and went a bit wobbly over 'Notes from an Exhibition'.
    Invariably set in Cornwall and oft dismissed as 'popular gay fiction'; how about that for dumb enticement?
    'Notes...' made my mum weep, 'Rough Music' made me want to read 'Notes...'
    Start with Rough Music then...

  4. Rough music was a great read , my other suggestion would be 'Little Bits of Baby ' . I really liked that one too . I do know what you mean about the covers , he used to have really good ones , sort of paintings of the charcters in each novel .


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