The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

This is my second foray into Tom Perrotta – this author that everyone finds prolific and amazing and WOW-so-good. I read Election a few years ago because I LOVED the movie and found myself less than impressed with the book. Maybe I was hoping for a little more YA-ness when confronted with a book set in a high school featuring 3 teenaged narrators… but anyway. My first impression of Mr. Perrotta? Not livin’ up to the hype.

Regarding The Abstinence Teacher? I’m torn. The premise is RIGHT up my alley – do any of you just have a Hot Topic that you have strong opinions about, one that gets you all riled up? Sex Ed is one of mine. This book is set in Generic Suburbia, and stars two characters who take opposite sides of a local battle between church, school, and morality. Ruth Ramsey is a divorced mother of two, but even though her family and perrsonal life leaves something to be desired,  she enjoys her job as the sex education teacher at a public school. When Ruth’s job is overhauled, due to pressures from the popular evangelical church in town, she finds herself espousing virginity in place of educated decisions and ignorance instead of information. Rattled, she takes her liberal rage out on our second focal character – Tim the Soccer Coach. A member of the Tabernacle church, Tim seems to be a typecast character for a Ned Flanders-type role – friendly, good-natured and great with his all-star girl’s team – and maybe Ruth is overreacting when he leads the team in a spontaneous prayer after a tough game. But Tim turns out to have demons of his own. He’s a divorcee himself, a recovered drug addict, and with help from his new church and his new wife, he’s back on the path to a legitimate life.

I enjoyed this book far more than I did Election. It’s a fast, fun read, and I love Perrotta’s dry narrative. His scenes always feel like parodies, but the emotion of the characters is real. It’s a pleasing reading experience. I enjoyed learning more about Ruth and Tim, and, of course, wondering how on earth these two characters were going to come together in the end.

The end is what I had issue with. It just ENDED. Not a single plotline was resolved enough to my liking. And maybe, as it is with many sociological, Parody-of-Real-Life type stories, the ending was intended to be ambiguous. Real Life is amiguous, you know. But as a reader, I wanted the satisfaction of knowing what would happen to these characters.

All in all, I don’t think this book does much to villify or exalt either sides of this morality play, and it is definitely a fun read, and a good look at the consequences of our millions of small decisions.

Tom Perrotta Online | NY Times Review | Indiebound Link

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2 Comments to “The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta”

  1. Your thoughts pretty much agree with mine. I LOVED his book “Little Children” but have been underwhelmed with everything else of his that I read.

  2. aww im sorry you didnt love it! although you’re right about the ending… it didnt bother me as much as another book i had read right before that, by one of my creative writing teachers, who literally stopped his book mid-sentence, ala sopranos. and i kind of liked that the reader has to speculate about what happens next – i love over-thinking books and thinking about characters like i know them. so sometimes ill pick an ending and be like “oh, that wouldn’t happen, ruth wouldn’t do that” hahah.

    i think i love his writing style most. some of his sentences make me stop so i can soak it all in. then i have to go back and read it again. sometimes i feel like he ripped sentences right from my head/heart. so i love that part of it. and, as vintagechica said, “Little Children” is absolutely amazing. The movie is pretty good too, because he’s the screenwriter or something. but read it first. i think i liked the BOOK election better than the movie because… i read the book first, so i went in not thinking anything about it. and i usually like the books better than the movies. i didnt like the movie election at all really.

    so, maybe, test out “little children” before you write perrotta off. but maybe he’s just not your cup of tea, which is fine too.

    btw – i checked out “american wife” today based on your review. i figured even if i hate politics, bush, and sittenfeld ripping off real life, it’ll be a good read.

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