Adventures in American Literature #7: The Abstinence Teacher

Tom Perrotta (b. 1961) – The Abstinence Teacher (2007)

This novel, Perrotta’s follow-up to Little Children, is not as good as its predecessor. It’s enjoyable, no doubt about that; the problem is that there is no real conflict, certainly not like the intimate issues presented in Little Children. For a novel centered around a sex education teacher, The Abstinence Teacher is remarkably lifeless. There’s humor here and there, and you’ll probably keep reading just to see what happens next, but it’s a disappointing read. You expect more out of Perrotta and his frustrated, trapped-in-the-suburbs characters. There’s barely any chemistry between the two protagonists, Ruth and Tim, nor do they interact many times over the course of the book, so the ending (which I’ll leave for you to discover) is unsatisfying no matter how you look at it.

The film adaptation has been in limbo for some time (Warner Brothers purchased the rights a year before the book was even published!). Of the various casting possibilities I’ve read about, I like the idea of having John Hawkes play the male protagonist, Tim. No matter who is cast in the film, I’m eager to see what Lisa Cholodenko does with the material.


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