The Abstinence Teacher

Paperback | September 30, 2008

byTom Perrotta

not yet rated|write a review
“Some people enjoy it.”

That was all Ruth had said. Even now, when she’d had months to come to terms with the fallout from this remark, she still marveled at the power of those four words, which she’d uttered without premeditation and without any sense of treading on forbidden ground.
(p. 11)

Thanks to an off-hand remark made during a class discussion of oral sex, sex-ed teacher Ruth Ramsey finds herself a target of the Christian evangelicals who are increasingly influencing the schoolboard of suburban Stonewood Heights. Forced to attend remedial sessions with a smug “Virginity Consultant,” Ruth is isolated and alone, caught in the polarized red-versus-blue landscape of present-day American suburbia. It’s like “living in a horror movie,” she thinks, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or something. You never knew who they were going to get to next.” Divorced and sharing custody of her daughters with her ex, and sometimes attempting a futile date, Ruth spends many a lonely weekend wondering how her bleak existence came to be.

Then one morning at her daughter’s soccer game, Ruth meets Tim Mason, a cute forty-something volunteer coach. Ruth feels an instant attraction to Tim, but when he draws the girls together for a spontaneous prayer circle after the game, she angrily yanks her daughter away from the proceedings, placing herself once again in the sights of the evangelicals.

But Ruth has another unexpected problem: she can’t seem to get a handle on Tim, her supposed adversary, who keeps appearing at her front door. A recovering addict whose bottoming-out cost him his home and his marriage, Tim found his way to the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth through the intervention of Pastor Dennis, the charismatic preacher who put Tim’s shattered life back together in an approximation of happiness. Thanks to Pastor Dennis, Tim is now married to Carrie, a fellow Tabernacler who is attractive and attentive, if robotic. He plays guitar at the weekly prayer sessions in a sanitized reenactment of his days in a Grateful Dead cover band. He holds a respectable if unfulfilling job as a loan officer, well aware of the irony of the post for a man with his history. He is grateful for the help he has received from his church community and Pastor Dennis. But he can’t shake the yearning for something more, and a nagging attraction to that troublesome sex-ed teacher....

With The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrotta wades into the murky waters of contemporary American suburbia, fully deploying his proven gift for describing the panic lurking beneath its seemingly placid surface. Already widely known to book and movie audiences for his scathing satire mixed with remarkable compassion in works including Election and Little Children (both adapted for film, Little Children garnering Perrotta an Oscar nomination), this novel once again proves, as declared by the Los Angeles Times, “Perrotta’s balance of humor and pathos has no equal.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$18.13 online
$19.95 list price (save 9%)
In stock online
Ships free on orders over $25

From the Publisher

“Some people enjoy it.”That was all Ruth had said. Even now, when she’d had months to come to terms with the fallout from this remark, she still marveled at the power of those four words, which she’d uttered without premeditation and without any sense of treading on forbidden ground. (p. 11)Thanks to an off-hand remark made during a cl...

From the Jacket

“Some people enjoy it.”That was all Ruth had said. Even now, when she’d had months to come to terms with the fallout from this remark, she still marveled at the power of those four words, which she’d uttered without premeditation and without any sense of treading on forbidden ground. (p. 11)Thanks to an off-hand remark made during a cl...

Tom Perrotta is the author of five previous works of fiction: Bad Haircut, The Wishbones, Election, and the New York Times bestselling Joe College and Little Children. Election was made into the acclaimed 1999 movie directed by Alexander Payne and starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. Little Children was released as a movie...

other books by Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers
The Leftovers

Paperback|May 22 2012

$16.23 online$21.00list price(save 22%)

Paperback|Oct 1 1998


Les disparus de Mapleton
Les disparus de Mapleton

Paperback|Feb 16 2015


see all books by Tom Perrotta
Format:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 1 inPublished:September 30, 2008Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:030735637X

ISBN - 13:9780307356376

Look for similar items by category:

Extra Content

Bookclub Guide

1. Reviewers have noted Perrotta’s gift for creating an ensemble of characters who are flawed but innately likeable. Is there a primary protagonist in this book? What are the strengths and flaws of each character? Do you have a favourite character?2. Perrotta writes of Ruth’s approach to Sex Ed that “She believed — it was her personal credo — that Pleasure is Good, Shame is Bad, and Knowledge is Power; she saw it as her mission to demystify sex for the teenagers of Stonewood Heights” (pp. 13-14). Discuss the way Perrotta portrays the opposing ideologies in this novel, for example Ruth’s “credo” versus the Tabernacle’s “Gospel Truth.” Does either side “win” in the end? Are these sides portrayed fairly?3. Ruth takes public stands on sex education and religion, but in smaller matters, such as her friend’s decision to take her husband’s surname, she decides not to weigh in: “she kept this opinion to herself, having learned the hard way that you could only lose by taking sides in matters as basic as this.” (p. 6) What is your opinion on when to bite one’s tongue with friends? What is the cost to Ruth of asserting herself on the larger public debates? Are there benefits?4. Midway through the book, Tim thinks about how he enjoys the all-inclusive community of the Tabernacle. (p. 139) Is the Tabernacle really all-inclusive? What is the significance of community in this novel?5. Though Pastor Dennis has advised Tim to imagine Christ at his side in times of crisis, he visualizes Christ as a too-permissive friend and falls back on imagining Pastor Dennis instead. (p. 239) What do you think is happening here, and later when Tim hears the voice of God? (p. 354) Has the Church had an overall positive or negative impact on Tim’s life? Is it an effective solution to his addictions in the long term? Did the depiction of Tim’s religious life feel real to you?6. What is it that really draws Ruth and Tim together? Consider what Ruth writes in the seminar about making mistakes, and worrying that when she someday lies on her deathbed she’ll be “wishing I’d lived when I had the chance.” (p. 264) What do you think Tim would think about what she says? What do you think?7. “She’d secretly been hoping to find herself enmeshed in one of those corny ‘opposites attract’ narratives that were so appealing to writers of sitcoms and romantic comedies. The formula was simple: You brought together a man and a woman who held wildly divergent worldviews – an idealistic doctor, say, and an ambulance-chasing lawyer – and waited for them to realize that their witty intellectual combat was nothing but a smoke screen, kicked up to conceal the inconvenient and increasingly obvious fact that they were desperate to hop into bed with each other.” (p. 183) How is this book similar to this formula? How is it different? Does the romance between Ruth and Tim remind you of any other novels you’ve read?8. At the Faith Keepers conference, Brother Biggs instructs the congregants to define and write down their “GREATEST FEAR.” (p. 342) What do you think Tim’s answer means? What did you think of this exercise? Would you be able to distill your answer into something printable on an index card?9. A review of this book in the New York Times cites Perrotta’s “pitch-perfect ear for dialogue.” What was your favourite bit of dialogue in this book? What rang for you as the truest, or funniest, moments?10. Were you surprised by the ending? What do you think will happen with Ruth and Tim?11. What are your thoughts about sex education and today’s youth?12. Perrotta is adapting this novel for film, as he did for two of his previous novels, Election and Little Children. If it were up to you, which actors would you cast in the primary roles?

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Tom Perrotta and Little Children:A New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe and BookSense bestseller:"Extraordinary . . . at once suspenseful, ruefully funny, and ultimately generous."—The New York Times Book Review"Perrotta is that rare writer equally gifted at drawing people’s emotional maps . . . and creating sidesplitting scenes. Suburban comedies don’t come any sharper."—People"A virtuoso set of overlapping character studies."—The Washington Post"A precise and witty evocation of the sweet, mind-numbing routines and everyday marital conflicts . . . an effervescent new work."—Entertainment Weekly"Perrotta wisely refuses to condescend to the world he satirizes, and his masterful perspective provides the reader with a breezy omniscience over the characters’ failures in life. The book is disarmingly funny but rueful . . . a brave novel."—Esquire"…has the same unputdownable quality as Little Children."—New York Magazine"Sex education, soccer and Christian fundamentalism make strange bedfellows in Perrotta's shrewd yet compassionate fifth novel…Ruefully humorous and tenderly understanding of human folly: the most mature, accomplished work yet from this deservedly bestselling author."—Kirkus Reviews"Tom Perrotta knows his suburbia, and in The Abstinence Teacher he carves out an even larger chunk of his distinct terrain…The book is rife with Perrotta's subtle and satiric humor."—Publishers Weekly"Perrotta deals with timely issues by having characters from different camps forced to confront one another. What results from these civilized exchanges, which feel so human in their complexity and confusion, is a more personal, inside view of how such tensions play out."—Library JournalFrom the Hardcover edition.