Friday, March 14, 2008

In Suburbia

You may know the name Tom Perrotta not from his novels but from their screen adaptations. Election and Little Children have both been made into movies. Election is a terrific black comedy. Little Children...hmmmm. I think people have strong feelings in both directions on this one so I'll just remain neutral in print. His latest novel is The Abstinence Teacher, and it's set in a suburbia that will seem familiar if you've seen these films. In some sense the main character is the Tabernacle, the newest evangelical church in town. Its influence pits Ruth, a liberal sex education teacher, against Tim, a former druggy rock musician turned zealous church member. OK, you can probably guess what happens. But it's to Perrotta's credit that none of this is painted in black and white. Ruth's liberal attitude is tested when her daughters ask to attend an evangelical church, and Tim, despite religious fervor (or because of it?), is presented sympathetically as a decent and vulnerable man. Perrotta can also be devastatingly funny. His description of the 'reinforcement session' Ruth and other reprobate sexuality teachers are forced to attend is hilarious. I wasn't surprised to learn that this novel is already in the process of being adapted into a film. So if you're not inclined to read it, watch for it soon at a theater near you.

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