The Abstinence Teacher

Tom Perrotta

A sharp, funny and beautifully observed satire about the disturbing influence of the Christian right from one of America’s most cherished authors.

Ruth Ramsey went too far. She hadn’t noticed the changing climate. A Sex Ed teacher “championing” oral sex!? Not now, not in this America…

Cherished by her high school pupils as someone who’d tell it straight, after one innocent classroom indiscretion Ruth suddenly finds the curriculum she has taught for nigh on 15 years worryingly out of vogue. It seems these days the kids no longer need teaching; they need telling. As the scandal flares up and attracts the unwelcome eye of the local evangelical Church, the appeasing high-school principal forces her into advocating a pro-abstinence agenda in the classroom that is at odds with all conventional wisdom. Jaded though she is by her recent divorce and fruitless search for a new love, she is not yet ready to kneel at the altar of sophistry – if common sense is to be sacrificed to Puritanism, she won’t let it pass without a fight.

On the other hand, it is a syllabus change which Tim Mason, recovering addict, local football coach and recent convert to the same plaintiff Church, should consider a victory. But his new found faith is constantly put to the test by the temptations of his former wayward life, forcing him into grand, defensive statements of purpose. When he makes the gesture of leading his football team in prayer after a hard-fought victory, in which Ruth’s daughter Maggie starred, he manages not only to incur the wrathful attention of her mother, but to cement his position as the star evangelist of his church – an office he is none too sure about occupying.

‘The Abstinence Teacher’ is a cutting portrayal of modern America and the influence of the Christian right from the acclaimed, bestselling author of ‘Election’ and ‘Little Children’. Scathing, witty and brilliantly observed, it will doubtless confirm Perrotta’s standing as one of the finest chroniclers of American life.

Reviews of The Abstinence Teacher

    • ‘Highly entertaining…At heart, this very funny, very engaging novel poses a question that seems all too pertinent in our Manichean times – why are we afraid of doubts and the mess that is human existence? And why, oh why, does there have to be a goddam answer to everything?’ The Times
    • ‘An expectedly serious, fair–minded and humane look at a lonely woman and a searching man. It is surprising and unusually loving towards its characters. Perrotta is especially good on that thorniest of questions, why Americans are so drawn to evangelical Christianity.’ Guardian
    • ‘The Abstinence Teacher is an entertaining exposé of the visible disparity between America’s unconquerable Puritanism and its still less conquerable wellsprings of sexual desire.’ Arena
    • ‘A good writer who has produced a novel of ideas, centred around the culture wars that currently convulse the United States.’ The Tablet
    • Praise for his previous books:
    • ‘Suspenseful, ruefully funny and ultimately generous… an American Chekhov whose characters even at their most ridiculous seem blessed and ennobled by a luminous human aura.’ New York Times
    • ‘Perrotta is like an American Nick Hornby: companionable and humane, lighthearted and surprisingly touching.’ Newsweek
    • ‘Unalloyed reading pleasure…most readers will probably end up standing at the footlights, hooting for an encore.’ New York Times