Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A TBR Vanquished and a decision made

The decision in question? I do like Tom Perrotta. I had found his previous books to be uneven at best. While I had absoultely loved Little Children, Joe College didn't do much of anything for me.

His newest book, The Abstinence Teacher, was terrific. It's smart and funny, and a good critique of the evangelistic movement without being too judgemental or preachy. The central figures in the book are both abstaining from sex, although neither really by choice. Ruth is the Abstinence Teacher in question, and has been divorced (and celibate) for two years. She landed in hot water with the administration after a student baited her about oral sex in class and she was amoral enough to admit that "some people like it." The student was a member of an evangelical church in town and used the comment to cause a huge uproar, resulting in the institution of an abstinence-only sex-ed "curriculum."

Tim is not actually her adversary in all of this, but represents another side of the story. He is, himself, a member of this evangelical church. He's also a former addict who struggles daily with the desire to drink and do drugs again. He misses the wild times, the women, the rock bands he used to play in, the card games, all that stuff. He also misses his ex-wife, who's moved on, and their daughter, who he only gets to see once a week. He married a younger Christian woman who doesn't turn him on the way his ex-wife used to, causing real problems throughout the relationship. A bright spot in his life is coaching his daughter's soccer team. Ruth's daughter plays for the same team, and their lives collide when Ruth catches him leading the girls in prayer after a particularly emotional game.

Unlike the other three Perrotta books I read, this one ends on a hopeful note. There's plenty of sorrow throughout the book: Ruth's palpable loneliness, Tim's feeling of being lost, the pain he causes others, the life that's slipping away from Ruth. There's also some very funny moments. I particularly liked the part where Ruth got sent for a "refresher" in the Wise Choices For Teens program. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you feel the way I do about things like abstinence-only "education" (seriously, remember how well the "Just Say No" campaign worked for drug addiction? see how no one does drugs anymore?) and the way the Christian Right has taken over this country. Get it if you can: it took me several tries at Central before I found it in.

No comments: