One of my favorite books (and films) of recent years has been Tom Perrotta’s “Little Children” which follows the story of two bored stay-at-home parents, who shake their boredom by having an affair. In it, Perrotta skewers many suburban stereotypes ruthlessly.
In his most recent book, “The Abstinence Teacher”, Perrotta returns to suburbia and examines a small skirmish in the Culture War that erupts when:
a) a high-school sex-ed teacher mentions that “many people enjoy sex” to her charges, and
b) a community soccer coach leads his middle-school-age girls’ team in a moment of prayer after a game.
Before each of those examples I almost wrote “in a moment of weakness, a high school…”, or “without considering the consequences, a community soccer…”. And to me this is one of the points that Perrotta is trying to convey. We’ve created a society in which advocates of either the right or the left can fan the smallest comment or action into a firestorm.
I finished this book about the time Carrie Prejean (Miss California USA) made headlines by answering a question about gay-marriage in the Miss USA Pageant. In her answer, she stumbled through platitudes for a while and then in the end blurted out that she did not support same-sex marriage and that marriage should be between a man and a woman. As a result, she has been lionized by the right and disparaged by the left. The media feeding frenzy around her reminded me of this book (I mean, does the opinion of a 22-yo beauty pageant entrant really worth all this fuss?). And God forbid, we should have a respectful discourse.
As a book, I don’t think “The Abstinence Teacher” is as good as “Little Children”—the characters are a little too broadly drawn, but I have to think that this book is a great choice for book-clubs because it’s a situation that we can all readily insert ourselves into and consider what we’d do confronted by the same type of situations — and what might happen to us if we blurted something out we actually believed in a moment of weakness.