Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: "The Abstinence Teacher" by Tom Perrotta

I have come to find Tom Perrotta very entertaining, but also very insightful, which is a combination that I feel most writers today try and strive for, and he succeeds beyond flying colors, as evidenced by his novel The Abstinence Teacher, an engaging and enlightening story of the things we do in order to get through the day and ultimately define our existence, in this case it is religion. It would have been very easy to write a story like this, and make the religious characters in it very campy, one-dimensional, and villainous in a mustache twirling sense. But Perrotta is a very humanistic writer who cares deeply for his fictional world and its population, so everyone we meet within the book’s pages is very real, even when they are doing something nefarious and passing it off as righteous. It never strays from this ideal, so while the people are real, so is there pain, and this book contains passages that lay the characters souls bare for us to see all it’s cracks and fissures. But do not let that fool you into thinking this book is purely an emotional journey. It is also a damned fun one as well, introducing two very different protagonists whose journey toward self-realization is fraught with lapses into weakness and startlingly careless run ins with people who are not so much bad as they are severely misguided. It is a book that flies by quickly, but still leaves a strong impression after reading it. The story centers on this small community called Stonewood Heights, which is being overrun by a new radically religious church hell-bent on changing the way things are run in such a godless place. In the center of this maelstrom of competing values are Ruth Ramsey, sex education teacher at the high school, and Tim Mason, coach of local girl’s soccer team. Ruth is famous and infamous around town for being very liberal and open in her class about the joys of sex (most notably, oral sex), which forced the school to change its curriculum to something more abstinence based. Tim is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who found God after his divorce, only to be stuck in a loveless marriage to a woman who he is not interested in, and to be subconsciously bossed around by the Pastor at this new radical church he is a member of. After an incident on the soccer field where Tim prayed with his team and garnered the wrath of Ruth, a sort of bond develops between these two unlikely people lost in a world controlled by everyone but themselves. This is a very optimistic book, dealing with the idea of what we hide behind to shelter our fears and doubts about who we are, only to find out who much happier we can be when we let other people into our lives. A wonderful, engaging book that is perfect for any kind of vacation, as long as you are ready to be enlightened.
Rating: 5/5

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