Sure is nice, having a novel read to you by a voice you like. Campbell Scott was my co-pilot for the last week and a half, telling me the story of The Abstinence Teacher, the latest novel by Tom Perrotta. I enjoyed it so much, I was kind of miffed to switch back to the radio this morning. I better run to the library and get more audiobooks.
But back to the Abstinence Teacher. If you're thinking about reading it, beware, there are some slight spoilers ahead (although nothing specific) in my explanation for what I liked and what disappointed. I really liked all the characters in "Little Children" (read that about a month ago), and how sympathetically he described them. I couldn't say the same for some of the folks peopling "The Abstinence Teacher" - I didn't get most of the born-again Christians, and didn't find them convincing. I thought he probably didn't get them either, so he didn't get them right. The most sympathetic of the bunch was Tim, the soccer coach, one of the central figures in the book. I found myself rooting for him, and was very very disappointed with the end of the book - I'd expected some more character development for him. He seemed to just do the same thing over and over, trying a different trick to get his life into better shape, always ducking out of predicaments, without ever actually manning up and taking responsibility. I liked the narrative structure - a thread of current story, enlivened by flashbacks and memories, just like you'd find in conversation with your friends. But while I found all those backstory episodes interesting, they didn't all ring true to me. For instance, I did not find Pastor Dennis' sudden conversion convincing at all. And another thing I didn't buy was Ruth's teenage episode of sudden, unprecedented sexual boldness. I don't know ... that just seemed like a typical male fantasy to me.
The "end" of the book really disappointed me. I like open-ended stories, but the way Perrotta was building toward the championship game ... toward a confrontation between Tim and his pastor, his faith, his wife ... a confrontation between Tim and Ruth ... confrontation between Ruth and her daughters, and then to just let it ... fizzle without delivering the goods? That felt like unfinished business, not an open-ended story. In my head, Kevin Kline, in full "Fish Called Wanda" Otto regalia, keeps saying, "DisapPOINted!!!"