The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
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Random House, Inc.
“Some people enjoy it.”

That was all Ruth had said. Even now, when she’d had months to come to terms with the fallout from this remark, she still marveled at the power of those four words, which she’d uttered without premeditation and without any sense of treading on forbidden ground.
(p. 11)

Thanks to an off-hand remark made during a class discussion of oral sex, sex-ed teacher Ruth Ramsey finds herself a target of the Christian evangelicals who are increasingly influencing the schoolboard of suburban Stonewood Heights. Forced to attend remedial sessions with a smug “Virginity Consultant,” Ruth is isolated and alone, caught in the polarized red-versus-blue landscape of present-day American suburbia. It’s like “living in a horror movie,” she thinks, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or something. You never knew who they were going to get to next.” Divorced and sharing custody of her daughters with her ex, and sometimes attempting a futile date, Ruth spends many a lonely weekend wondering how her bleak existence came to be.

Then one morning at her daughter’s soccer game, Ruth meets Tim Mason, a cute forty-something volunteer coach. Ruth feels an instant attraction to Tim, but when he draws the girls together for a spontaneous prayer circle after the game, she angrily yanks her daughter away from the proceedings, placing herself once again in the sights of the evangelicals.

But Ruth has another unexpected problem: she can’t seem to get a handle on Tim, her supposed adversary, who keeps appearing at her front door. A recovering addict whose bottoming-out cost him his home and his marriage, Tim found his way to the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth through the intervention of Pastor Dennis, the charismatic preacher who put Tim’s shattered life back together in an approximation of happiness. Thanks to Pastor Dennis, Tim is now married to Carrie, a fellow Tabernacler who is attractive and attentive, if robotic. He plays guitar at the weekly prayer sessions in a sanitized reenactment of his days in a Grateful Dead cover band. He holds a respectable if unfulfilling job as a loan officer, well aware of the irony of the post for a man with his history. He is grateful for the help he has received from his church community and Pastor Dennis. But he can’t shake the yearning for something more, and a nagging attraction to that troublesome sex-ed teacher....

With The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrotta wades into the murky waters of contemporary American suburbia, fully deploying his proven gift for describing the panic lurking beneath its seemingly placid surface. Already widely known to book and movie audiences for his scathing satire mixed with remarkable compassion in works including Election and Little Children (both adapted for film, Little Children garnering Perrotta an Oscar nomination), this novel once again proves, as declared by the Los Angeles Times, “Perrotta’s balance of humor and pathos has no equal.”

Publisher: Toronto : Random House Canada, c2007
ISBN: 9780307356369
Branch Call Number: FIC Perro
Characteristics: v, 358 p.

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l
lukasevansherman
Aug 14, 2014

Wow, there's some surprising vitriol in these reviews. I don't think suggesting the Perrotta's editor should have killed himself (as UAKate suggests) is either accurate or appropriate. True, it's not as tightly plotted as "Election" or "Little Children," but I don't think it's meant to be, as Perrotta puts some interesting characters together and then lets them run into each other. If you grew up Evangelical, 1)I'm sorry 2)This book will be of special interest to you, as it deals with Christianity and sex (or lack of sex) which very few books do. Perrotta is one of our finest moralists, which doesn't mean his books are ever preachy, but that he is concerned with how people act and the ethics of difficult situations. He may be in Updike territory (unhappy white people in the suburbs), but he's funnier, sharper, and less full of himself than Updike. Ignore the bad reviews and read this.

c
coastalkate
May 28, 2013

I agree with most of the comments - this was a weak story-line. The writing itself is clear and easy to read, but the story itself leaves something to be desired.

m
mpfickes
Jul 21, 2012

Perrotta seems to be chasing John Updike's title as the king of suburban WASP storytelling. He revels in comic depictions of the worried well. He creates a sympathetic character in Ruth Ramsay, a 40-ish high school health teacher struggling to cope with the loneliness of her newly single state after her marriage crumbles. Ruth's solidly secular liberal values are challenged by the specter of her daughter's soccer coach leading the team in spontaneous prayer after a hard-won victory. It's in plot machinations that pit Ruth against the appealing but not quite authentic character of Tim Mason, the coach, that Perrotta stumbles. Tim's struggles to remain faithful to the precepts of his newfound fundamentalist church, The Living Tabernacle, do not resonate. Francine Prose's novel A Changed Man deals much more successfully with the grappling of a lost soul. Perrotta's characters and their dilemmas just come off as slight

u
UAKate
May 06, 2012

The limpest, weakest, sorriest excuse for a storyline I have ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. His editor should have been forced to commit hari kiri after allowing this to go to press. WEAK storyline treatment, unappealing characters, and a completely tepid attraction between the two main characters for whom we're supposed to be rooting. From reading other reviews, the author's intent allegedly was to draw attention to the divide between the beliefs of the evangelical right and the rest of America, but I think he handed in his family jewels along with the finished draft and said to his publisher, "I didn't really need these; I wasn't using them anyway." I can't believe this is the same author who wrote Election, with its sharp and darkly scheming characters. It's an interesting premise, but could have been handled so much better. You'll get no satisfaction from this novel--just a vague, icky feeling that reminds you of that time you had that fling with that person with when you gave up briefly and told yourself you were aiming for too high a standard. Trust your gut: keep holding that standard, and for God's sake, read something else.

PrimaGigi Oct 09, 2011

I really liked this book, until I got to the middle of it. It seemed to meander along. The focus was mainly on Tim Mason, rather then both parities as a whole. I really wanted to know more about Ruth Ramsey. I also wished the tension between Tim and Ruth had brought out more; and truly looked at. Both characters should of had more interaction to get to know each other. It would have a better story if that had been the underline of the book, this odd-relationship between the two and how even through their differences, they understand each other. I really did enjoy the dialogue, Perrotta really made an effort to actually a realistic view from both sides of the spectrum.

k
Kenaia
Jan 03, 2011

Overall, the writing in this book was pleasant and drew me into the story. I really wanted to find out what would happen next, although the beginning was slow. The only reason I rate this book less than 5 stars is because the ending was AWFUL. The book was just building up to the climax, and then it ENDED!!! I get that sometimes that works, but in this case it made me feel like the rest of the book was worth nothing. Still, I'd recommend it for the buildup. Just prepare to be disappointed towards the end.

s
samsea
Sep 15, 2009

I agree with the previous negtive comment and it is the major flaw that it is lack of clue to draw Tim and Ruth together other than the instant chemistry. Their very few times conversations were comfortable but still above the surface. (But we had The Bridges of Madison County for the few polite conversations leading to one night stand and lifelong sentiment. )

I still gave it 4 stars because i enjoyed the reading all along. Tom created very full and vivid scenes for everyday lifes and allowed me to get into each soul to take an intimate peek, and then them made me laugh and sigh.

I take a liking to Tim, the previous addict with twisted mind. He has problems but he is honest,sincere (eg.conversation with Ruth about God), and cute (eg, how he pursuaded himself to the marriage to Carrie. eg. How he had beef during making love with his affair).

I am happy for the ending. After all, having found a soul mate is so satisfying.

j
jbeckber
Jul 23, 2008

I am not familiar with Tom Perrotta as an author and chose this book "par hasard". I found it very easy to read and intriguing in that I was interested to know how it would unfold and the two opposing arguments would come together. I was however, greatly disappointed with the ending. I think Perrotta copped out by not coming to a resolution or even giving the reader more of a feeling as to how it could possibly resolve. For any reader who thinks of the possibilities in a rational world would think that it could not resolve easily for the two main characters Ruth and Tim. Having recently read Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven" on Mormonism and general religion, and "A Million Pieces" by James Frey, the storyline was interesting, as I already mentioned. Again, I didn't think that the author did a good job bring the reader to a plausible ending or outlining any possibilities.

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UAKate
May 06, 2012

UAKate thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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