I really like Tom Perrotta and have read much of his work. What I can't figure out is why I like his work so much. I wouldn't call him a great 'writer' like you'd say of Fitzgerald or Salinger. He doesn't write sweeping epics like Michael Chabon or even Khaled Hosseini. He's not the polymath type like Updike who can write about anything or like Mailer who becomes consumed by his current subject or like Roth who mines one vein over and over (many would disagree with me here. Get your own damn blog). What Perrotta has been able to do, consistently, is tell a good story about seemingly normal people living their normal, everyday lives. Sadly, with The Abstinence Teacher, he falls far short. The premise is promising--what happens when a local church becomes so vocal as to cause a public high school to radically change their curriculum to forego a sizable lawsuit and the subsequent aftermath to those involved. In this era of political correctness and the prevalent 'I'm a victim' mentality of our times (when will this era end?), it is certainly ripe and has all the makings of an engaging and complex story. However, it just doesn't work.
Why would Ruth, a smart woman and a potentially interesting character, fall for the hapless, born again soccer coach? He's so lame I want to punch him in the face repeatedly with a roll of quarters in my chubby little fist and I'm really not that prone to violence.
What is the point of the gay marriage sub-plot--to show there is only happiness where there is tolerance? Kind of obvious and kind of weak.
Why do Ruth's daughters suddenly and fervently embrace religion? A plot device.
Why does the ending suck so bad? I don't know but I was almost angry when I read the last few pages and saw this would be how it ended.
Sorry, Mr. Perrotta. While I look forward to your next work, The Abstinence Teacher is not worthy of the considerable abilities you have shown in other novels. No hard feelings.