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THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER

Ruefully humorous and tenderly understanding of human folly: the most mature, accomplished work yet from this deservedly...

Sex education, soccer and Christian fundamentalism make strange bedfellows in Perrotta’s shrewd yet compassionate fifth novel.

Neither as dark as Little Children (2004) nor as scathingly funny as Election (1998), like them it displays the author’s wide-ranging empathy. Readers will certainly sympathize with Ruth Ramsey, the high-school teacher whose unwary response to a provocative classroom question about oral sex leads to her being saddled with a not-so-covertly Christian sex-ed curriculum. But Perrotta encourages us to respect all his characters, including the ones who belong to the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth, source of the threatened lawsuit that’s forced Ruth to tout the joys of abstinence. Among the believers is Tim Mason, a former rock musician and substance abuser who cleaned up with the help of the Tabernacle’s Pastor Dennis, both a warm, nurturing shepherd to his flock and an unforgiving purveyor of hard-line doctrine. Ruth’s older daughter Maggie plays on the soccer team Tim coaches, and she’s outraged when he spontaneously leads them in a prayer after a hard-fought victory. That’s about all the plot there is, as Ruth attempts to recruit other parents for a letter of protest and discovers that even in the affluent Northeastern suburb of Stonewood Heights the Christian right is a force to be reckoned with. Tim is beginning to have his doubts about his faith and especially about his marriage to Carrie, a sweet, much-younger woman who can’t eradicate either his lustful memories of his ex-wife or his burgeoning attraction to Ruth. Perrotta makes gentle fun of Carrie dutifully leafing through a copy of Hot Christian Sex: The Godly Way to Spice Up Your Marriage, but also of Ruth’s gay pal Gregory making elaborate dioramas of Parisian cafes featuring French Resistance Fighter GI Joes clad in black turtlenecks and berets. Confusion and regret are as much the subjects here as religious controversy.

Ruefully humorous and tenderly understanding of human folly: the most mature, accomplished work yet from this deservedly bestselling author.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-35833-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Awards & Accolades

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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