Gina’s Reading: The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom PerrottaMy husband, a writer in his own right, loved The Abstinence Teacher so much that he started an email exchange with Tom Perotta about it. That’s incredibly rare esteem from him. So, I read it immediately.

I will agree with Ned Andrew that the prose is flawless and the dialogue is incredibly crisp. Most of the characters are sensitively drawn and multi-dimensional–especially the males. Perrotta does a wonderful and sensitive job of exploring difficult relationship and community issues without making anyone out to be the villain.

I appreciated that there wasn’t a neat and tidy wrap up–one of my pet peeves–and that the pace was maintained throughout the book. The movement between the two main characters was seamless.

There was one aspect that left me a little flat. Of the two main characters, Perrotta may have short-changed Ruth a bit. While we get all sorts of depth when we watch Tom make his choices and understand why he does some of the things he does–even when we wouldn’t choose those paths–Ruth is less a protagonist than she is a reactionary. I kept wanting her to do something instead of just bouncing off of everyone else’s choices.

I did really enjoy reading the book. Perrotta is laugh-out-loud funny at times–admittedly more often for Ned than for me–and can break your heart with dead-on dialogue. I can’t give it all 10 (5? I need to get a rating system worked out.) gold stars simply because I wanted a little more development of Ruth’s character–but I am really being picky here.

If you enjoy deep characters, the exploration of difficult subjects, and incredible dialogue, Perrotta has written a book that’s worth the read.

Gina’s Reading: That Old Cape Magic

That Old Cape Magic by Richard RussoI love, love, love Richard Russo. Straight Man is an all-time favorite and worth a regular re-read. So, I pre-ordered my copy of That Old Cape Magic back in April 2010 and read it within a couple of days of it arriving.

Elements that I love:

(1) Russo is a master of character. You know these people. They live in your town. They are in your family. They are so real, they breathe.

(2) Russo is a master of dialogue. No matter what he has those real characters say, it always comes off as naturally as if he were walking around tape-recording people talking.

(3) Russo is a master of place. He takes you there. You can smell the air.

(4) Laughter through tears. My favorite.

(5) “The story tracks” as he states about other things 400 times in this book. I buy it. I really do.

(6) It has a completely satisfying ending. None of my pet peeves were set off here. Delicious.

Elements that lost it a star:

(1) The time warp thing. It makes me banana crackers to start a chapter and find out that we have skipped some time and will now learn what happened in review. The device is okay for exposition, but for moving the plot forward it is awkward and off putting. It is a personal preference–but it bothers me enough to complain!

(2) The absolutely ridiculous rehearsal dinner scene. I hate it so much that I don’t want to think about it any more.

All-in-all it is a better book than most people write at their very, very best. Russo usually takes about a million years between releases, so maybe he was rushed to press in order to get his royalty check to pay for his daughters’ weddings. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Go ahead, read it. It’s a really good book.

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