I was pointed in the direction of this book by 'Larachristina' who you will notice has also reviewed it (the witch), I had never heard of Tom Perrotta but was told it was a good read, as ever I read the back cover to see what it was about, and deciding it looked racey enough to satisfy my reading needs for a few nights I embarked on the journey.
The story is about a sex education teacher called Ruth Ramsey in a small American town called Stonewood Heights, she has been teaching at the local high school for 15 years and obviously enjoys her job. She believes she is doing a public service to try and stop teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease while not trying to teach that sex is BAD. However in her sleepy little town recently has come the marching force of the local Church sweeping up the residents like a tidal wave.
Ruth, somewhat naively doesn't believe that this local trend to convert to Christianity and save ones soul would affect her teachings in the classroom and goes on teaching in her normal way, however in one of her classes the topic of oral sex comes up and she makes the off the cuff remark of:-
'some people enjoy it'
well, that is enough for the Christian right to get well and truly involved, and Ruth finds herself in hot water.
The book is put across in first person, and changes between chapters on who it concentrates it attention, Ruth is one of the leads and the second is a gentleman named Tim Mason. Tim has a music backround, but somehow along the way his music backround turned into a drugs backround and he lost his way in life, his wife has left him and he struggles at work, the only way he feels that he can fill this massive empty void in his life is with the teachings of the Church.
Tim has had his faith put to the test many times but has managed to stay on the right path with the support of the very active local minister, Tim even coaches the girls local soccer team, however this is where things are about to go wrong and our two characters collide.
Ruth has two daughters and on turning up to the weekends soccer game she meets some of the other parents and coaches, and also Tim Mason, Ruth has become infamous around the local area for her teachings in school but goes to see her daughter play, after a good game it is time to leave but when she looks for her daughter she finds that Tim Mason has formed a circle of prayer with the young girls and is now leading a communal prayer. Ruth goes ballistic and being a firm atheist herself causes quite a scene.
The rest of the book follows each characters person lives and struggles as well as their interaction together, I won't give away any more, but I think you can get a fair gist of the plot line from that. The book is really a satirical view of American Evangelical religion in which their power completely controls whole towns and Cities, and I imagine that this still happens to this day.
New York Times 'Perrotta is like an American Nick Hornby: companionable and humane, lighthearted and surprisingly touching.'
I enjoyed the book, although not as much as I had hoped, I understand the New York Times comparing Perrotta to Hornby, although I would say that Hornbys better works easily outshine this. I felt lucky that even though we still have a very large religious belief in this country it cannot sweep into whole towns and completely disrupt the way in which we live our lives, I say this from my perspective but don't know if anyone has had other experiences?
I believe that everyone at some time feels like there is something missing, and this seems particularly true in Stonewood Heights where local residents search for something greater than themselves to guide them on the right path. It is as much a book about personal struggle as it is about power.
I am not a religious man myself, and so therefore enjoyed some of the roles put forward by the author, at no time does Perrotta try and define the actions of the Church as a whole, it explains the reasons behind a particular persons actions, but never by the Church themselves. The Church on a whole is put up for ridicule in the way they conduct themselves highlighting just how extreme and far fetched some of the things they do can be and how they affect the common man.
I have not come away laughing at the Church though, and I never had a moment where I sat in bed chuckling away to myself at the irony which some of the reviews on various websites have stated. I enjoyed it but not enough to tell you to go out and read it as an essential. I have given it 3 stars out of five because I think 4/10 is unfair while 6/10 may be about right.
You can buy this book new from Amazon for £4.39
There readers have given it 4/5 from five reviews.
At paperback it is 400pages
Tom Perrotta is known best for his books "Election" (which was adapted into the film starring Reece Witherspoon and Mathew Broderick), and "Little Children" (the film adaptation starring Kate Winslet).
I had never read any of his books before, although i thoroughly enjoyed "Election" the film, but when I was browsing through Borders in Leeds, I happened upon "The Abstinence Teacher" and thought it looked like a good book for my fella.
I ended up reading it before he did (that night), and I think I probably enjoyed it more than him.
"The Abstinence teacher" plops the reader firmly in NorthEastern America, in a small town called StoneWood Heights.
There we meet Ruth Ramsey, a sex education teacher, who has recently found that her all too honest approach with children, can land her in hot water with the local evangelical church, and their growing clutch upon the residents of the town.
When Ruth discovers that the girls soccer team, in which her daughter plays, has been guided in prayer by their coach, Tim, she goes ballistic. She doesn't want her children praying, just because someone has told them to.
Tim in the meantime is a recovering alcoholic and drug user. He has become a firm member of the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth, where he tries his best to adhere to God's word....or at least the word that the Tabernacle hears.
With Ruth trying to understand the difference between what she wants and expects for her children, and what they want and expect from her, and Tim struggles to live his life the way he is being told to, the town of StoneWood continues to let the influence of the Church seep into every day life.
What I thought.
The Abstinence teach explores how otherwise unreligious people respond to evangelical christianity, and how it seems to be adopted as a search for a cure for many of life's woes. It also explores how unwanted its influence can sometimes be.
When Ruth's honesty about sex offends the local evangelical church, they demand that the school runs an alternative sex education class, or more to the point, an abstinence class. Ruth's frustration at this completely limited education is apparent, and its easy to sympathise with her. The idea that the best education is denial is an interesting one.
I don't think this is a particularly balanced look on religion. The characters not involved in the evangelical church somewhat look upon it with disdain, and the devout characters are almost parodies. well, hopefully they are. It was obvious to me that author Tom Perrotta was giving a somewhat amused view on the whole idea of strict religion slithering its way into everyday life.
All of the characters are flawed and human. Ruth is an every day, utterly normal forty something woman, who struggles with the upbringing of her children, her divorce, and her love life.Tim however seems to think he has found the solution to all of his woes, in God, and because of this, he widely ignores the unsatisfying relationship he has with his altogether boring, and Church approved wife Carrie.
There is no big clean answer by the end of the book. We never find out whether the Church wins, or even whether there was ever a battle to begin with. The characters continue to stumble along, attempting to do whats right, and making plentiful mistakes along the way.
I quietly enjoyed this book. It wasn't anything magical, and it didn't leave me questioning my religion or lack of it afterward, but it did engross me for few hours, and I put it down having very much enjoyed it.
Its just a very quiet look at a section of American suburbia, with lovely well thought out characters, amusing dialogue,and bizarre situations.
This book is funny, mildly thought provoking, and in the end entertaining, which is probably what I find most important in a novel.
buy from here, for £4.39.
(Link is split in 3, to keep it under 80 characters. Just paste it back together).