Sunday, December 16, 2007

THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER by Tom Perrotta (2007)

I heard Perrotta talking about his most recent novel at Ben McNally's Books and Brunch at the King Edward last week. Perrotta was compelled to write a book wherein he could contemplate the current polemic in the USA with the rise of fundamentalism, especially post 9/11.

So, in THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER, he follows the narratives of two characters, both loving, middle-aged parents of young girls. Ruth Ramsey is the health teacher at the local high school who believes that "pleasure is good, shame is bad and knowledge is power." Her daughter's soccer coach, Tim Mason, has found Jesus at the local Tabernacle under the guidance of Pastor Dennis after having hit rock bottom in a life of drug abuse and philandering. His evangelical church makes Ruth the focus of a very public crusade that leads to her redeployment in the classroom where she refuses to teach an abstinence only curriculum.

The most stable romantic relationship in the book is one between two gay men who have been together for over 15 years and are contemplating leaving their all-American suburb to begin life anew in Massachusetts, the only state in the union where it is possible for gay couples to marry.

THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER is a perfect mixture of compassion and satire and has me reaching for Perrotta's other more famous books, ELECTION and LITTLE CHILDREN. This guy knows how to write.

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