Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence TeacherThe Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Perrotta's recent novel - The Leftovers - so much that I started reading some of his previous novels. This was also masterfully done and I will probably keep going through his backlist. A liberally minded sex education teacher, Ruth, makes a comment about some people enjoying oral sex in response to a comment from a student. This comment gets her in very hot water with parents and a local church (the Tabernacle) resulting in a new abstinence curriculum being instituted. Ruth must teach what she doesn't believe to keep her job.

The other main character is the soccer coach, Tim, who leads a team that includes Ruth's daughter. After one game he, on impulse, leads the team in prayer. He is a member of the infamous Tabernacle after recovering from drug addiction. The prayer makes Ruth furious and starts a series of events questioning what is too much when professing and practicing your beliefs in the face of people who don't believe.

Religious belief is always a sticky subject and many relationships and friendships are destroyed during the discussion. I was very impressed with Perrotta's ability to show the reader that each character has a legitimate reason for believing and acting the way that they do. Just like life, having a good reason doesn't avoid the backlash, hurt feelings, and other negative results of your actions. Ruth had a good reason for her comment and Tim had a good reason for his prayer. Both of them are paying for the decisions they made.

Perrotta also does a good job of portraying the difficulty of someone who believes certain parts of a religion and the difficulty in trying to accept the parts they don't believe yet. Faith is a struggle and I appreciated this honest portrayal of Tim experiencing that struggle.

As with The Leftovers, the characters and situations portrayed in a traditional suburban neighborhood are spot-on. I, like many people, live in a suburban neighborhood and the genuineness of these suburban characters makes them feel real and helps me sympathize and empathize with them as the story unfolds. Great read - now on to the next Perrotta novel.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't it great when you find an author you love? And then you troll through all their books. (I'm doing that right now with Michael Connelly.)

    The problem with this is when you start with their most recent. Writers usually get better as after each book, so going backwards down their list can be disappointing. It's nice to know this author has proven this to be so.