November 29, 2007

BOOKS: The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrotta (2007)

Ruth is a high school sex-ed teacher at a Midwestern suburban high school. She believes in being honest with her students, and is gritting her teeth at the new curriculum she's been forced to teach. The school has decided to teach abstinence only, mostly because of political pressure from members of the Tabernacle, an evangelical church that's relatively new in town.

Tim is a member of the Tabernacle, and he coaches the soccer team on which Ruth's younger daughter plays. In the passion of the moment after an exciting victory, he leads the girls in a prayer, infuriating Ruth.

It would not be unreasonable to think that when these two characters meet, something interesting would happen. And in a better novel, it would. But alas, in The Abstinence Teacher, almost nothing happens. Tim and Ruth meet, they argue a bit, they flirt a bit -- all of it leading nowhere.

Perrotta manipulates his cardboard cutouts (Ruth's obligatory gay best pal is a particularly grating collection of stereotypes and cliches) in order to makes what he seems to think are surprising and novel points: Zealotry makes people stupid, and left-wing zealots can be just as intolerant and annoying as right-wing zealots. Gee, who knew.

Not recommended. At all. To anyone.

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