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Tom Perrotta Introduces 'The Abstinence Teacher'

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Public high school is a recurring theme in the fiction of Tom Perrotta, because, he says, "it's the best metaphor ... for America."

The America he depicts in his new novel, The Abstinence Teacher, a New York Times Notable Book, is one of raging culture wars. Here, the battle is being waged not just in the local high school, where the sex education class is commandeered by the abstinence movement, but also in a new evangelical church aiming to rout out sin.

Book critics say that anxiety-struck suburbia increasingly belongs to Perrotta, a plain-spoken writer with an ear for dialogue. His previous novel, Little Children, about the affair between a bored housewife and a stay-at-home dad, traverses nearly the same strip-mall laden turf. Perrotta later adapted that book into an Oscar-nominated screenplay.

Perrotta's breakthrough came with his screenplay adaptation of his then-unpublished novel, Election, which wound up coming out slightly ahead of the 1999 movie release. He is currently working on the film adaptation of The Abstinence Teacher for the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.

The author says that writing screenplays taught him "how much freedom" novels give "to get into the characters' heads and show them thinking." He adds: "that line between what we say publicly and what we do privately — that's why the novel exists."

This reading of The Abstinence Teacher took place in November at the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Linda Kulman
Linda Kulman, the editor of’s weekly feature Book Tour, is an avid reader, veteran journalist and writer living in Washington, D.C. She worked as a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report for a decade, where she reported for every section of the magazine. Most recently, she covered religion and consumer culture. Kulman’s book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and on She has collaborated on four non-fiction books, working with a variety of notable figures. Early on in her career, she worked for several years as a fact checker at The New Yorker. Kulman also earned a degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.