The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher

by Tom Perrotta

It's the kind of place where parents are involved in their children's lives, where no opportunity for enrichment goes unexplored.Ruth Ramsey is the human sexuality teacher at the local high school.

She believes that "pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power." Ruth's younger daughter's soccer coach is Tim Mason, a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved.

Tim belongs to The Tabernacle, an evangelical Christian church that doesn't approve of Ruth's style of teaching.

But when a controversy on the soccer field pushes the two of them to actually talk to each other, they are forced to take each other at something other than face value.The Abstinence Teacher exposes the powerful emotions that run beneath the surface of modern American family life and explores the complex spiritual and sexual lives of ordinary people.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.25
  • Pages: 368
  • Publish Date: October 16th 2007 by Random House Canada
  • Isbn10: 0307356361
  • Isbn13: 9780307356369

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I wasn't looking for the literary love of my life. Even the briefest of airport bathroom encounters is pregnant with possibility. So I'll admit to a certain nervous excitement as I boarded the plane at SFO, your manly bulk in my pocket, pressing against my crotch in mute promise of pleasures yet to come. But I should have heeded the warning signs that were obvious right there in the book store. The one where your desperate need to be liked permeates every line of the simpering come-hither rictus of a wistful little-lost-geisha-boy pout that you project to your potential johns. To try to be all things to all men? So that, when your thin excuse for a bold courageous novel touching on polemic issues degenerated into an incoherent mess of not wanting to offend anybody under any circumstances, frankly my frustration increased in direct proportion to the flaccidity of your prose. What was particularly weird was that you were hardly fooling anyone with your lethally boring 150 pages of padding trying to cover up the moral vaccum at the heart of your cardboard ex-stoner Jesus freak. AS STUPID AS THE AUTHOR ...

My dad sent me this book, and also the DVD of "Little Children", which is based on his novel of the same name.

Find the entire essay at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography cclapcenter.com.) As I've mentioned here a couple of times before, I've recently become a fairly big fan of movie-friendly author Tom Perrotta; for example, I found his breakthrough 2006 novel Little Children to be a surprisingly complex and subtle look at just what a horrific place the suburbs can be to some people, a stifling environment that squashes all yearning for something beyond the lowest common denominator as thoroughly as a Communist cultural crackdown.

2.5 Stars The Abstinence Teacher is a pretty solid near-three-star read from Tom Perrotta, though I thought he really could've gone a lot farther with his observations on the rift between the religious right and the secular left. Representing the other side of the ideological rift is Tim Mason, a reformed Grateful Deadhead stoner, now the soccer coach of one of Ruth's daughters, and member of the Tabernacle (one of the churches responsible for the Ruth's SexEd curriculum change).

On the other side, the story is also about Tim, a member of the ultra-conservative Tabernacle church, led by religious zealot Pastor Dennis, a former Best Buy employee who found Jesus and then smashed up the store's most expensive merchandise. Following one particularly emotional win, and with Ruth in the crowd, Tim sits his team down in a circle and leads them in a prayer of thanks. And this book was going just great up to the point that Ruth's and Tim's worlds collide. But here comes the major storyline of the novel that I just couldn't buy, and that really messed up a lot of moments for me: Perrotta introduced sexual tension between Tim and Ruth. At the end of the game, this beauty sits down my kid, MY KID, and leads him/her in a prayer of thanks to Jesus. So naturally, when I read that Ruth is having feelings for Tim, and vice versa, well, I'm just not buying what Perrotta's selling. I can see Tim being interested, but reciprocation of that interest doesn't fit the Ruth character that Perrotta had already introduced me to, and that lingering attraction messed up a lot of the story's credibility.

Ive only read one Tom Perrotta novel before, Little Children, which I enjoyed immensely and found to be a well orchestrated satire on suburban life and its less than picture perfect truth, so I entered reading The Abstinence Teacher optimistically, only to find myself very disappointed very quickly. Every character acts like a mouthpiece, everything they say seems to be taken from a newspaper article debating the pros and cons of religious and sexual issues, and their functions as mouthpieces dont give them any room to develop as fully rounded characters independent of the debate Perrotta wants to have. We only get one or two real scenes of Ruth teaching abstinence and the school politics of it all but Perrotta seems bored, as if he doesnt want to create any real conflict. There is no real story to speak of, events just ramble along and meander back and forth as the point-of-view switches from divorced mother and health teacher Ruth to born again Christian with a crisis Tim. These two characters are supposed to be engaged in a battle of wits and morals, one being the atheist with a grudge against the radically increasing Christian presence in her school, the other the former drug addicted rock-star who found solace in Christ and wants to be a good person through his teachings.

When it comes to my sex life, theres a lot my parents dont need to know. The information is crap (condoms failing 1/3 of the time, EVERYONE who has sex will get a disease, that hot girl with teh A&F model boyfriend is content in her life without orgasams, etc), the teachers don't believe it and are teaching it to a group of students who, rather then listen, are eyeing that cute girl in the second row. I was fortunate enough to have parents and teachers who gave me the information I needed, and trusted me to be smart about making my own choices.

And the connection between Tim, her daughter's born-again soccer coach, and Ruth are great. The scene where Ruth realizes that Tim is praying on after a particularly invigorating game is so well-done. After reading Little Children two years ago, I was already impatient for his newest book to come out. Sure, she had her moments of fire and anger concerning her curriculum and maybe her daughters (and of course, Tim's choice to pray after games), but then what? And Tim...I understood why Tim had a bigger role in the book than Ruth; it was crucial for the reader to understand how one gets to be a born-again and the doubts/uncertainties that he/she has after the fact. They reminded me of the ONLY thing I didn't like in Little Children, which were the football games. And I will still probably re-read this book a few times, because that's how I roll.