Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Abstinence Teacher

My better- or rather, my vastly superior - half recently bought a copy of Tom Perotta's The Abstinence Teacher from Shakespeare and co in Paris. Since I had only brought How to Lose Friends and Alienate People along as holiday matter, I needed a new book, and stat (not because Toby Young's memoir is awful - it's not. It's just that it's one of those little pamphlets you can hoover up in more or less a single sitting: cf. those of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Atherton; I scanned the salient chapters--the crack-up, the Ashes--in various Borders around town). Anyway, I wheedled and pouted like a sad champion until I was allowed to read.

It's actually brilliant. I sort of knew it must be at least a bit good, since it had been hugely well reviewed just about everywhere. It's a nice question, therefore, why the book I never trained my voracious I MUST BUY THIS kleig lights upon the book for even a fleeting moment. Anyway. The book is about a sex education teacher in a small American town, whose turf gets encroached upon by an incongruously gamine Christian pushing her abstinence-only program into the school, and who also has to deal with her daughter's soccer coach who, after much drinking and drugging, is now born-again.

Apart from the brilliant interior voices of the assembled pastors, sad-sack teachers, ex-wives and husbands, defiant teens and jarringly perky Christians, what stands out is Perotta's compelling facility with dialogue and plot. Fantastic set pieces, such as the recalcitrant teachers having to relate a "sexual experience I regret" or the born-again convention, are powered forward by the smooth engine of the plot, all its part moving in lovely harmony as the book's smooth groove's crescendo hits a surprising note at the climax.


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