There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Tom Perrotta satirizes the suburbs, but unlike many novelists he’s exceedingly careful about how he does his job. Sure, the title of his 2004 novel, Little Children, refers to both unfaithful parents and the tykes scampering in manicured parks. But Perrotta wasn’t mocking soccer moms and stay-at-home-dads so much as the hypocritical ways in which life off the Interstate attempts to cage them. In that regard, Little Children shares the precise observations and sympathetic tone of John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels, which explored similar turf (and, interestingly, weren’t reduced by critics as being merely ha-ha funny). All of which is to stress that Perrotta isn’t quick to Taser the characters in his new novel, The Abstinence Teacher, even though he’s invented a pair of easy targets: Ruth is an oversexed divorcée and teacher who’s disciplined for delivering straight talk about blowjobs and condom failure rates in class, and Tim is a soccer coach with a long drug history who’s rigorously policed by the evangelical strip-mall church that got him clean. Even Pastor Dennis, the head of that church and something of a spiritual tyrant in both Tim and Ruth’s lives, is too full-blooded to dismiss as caricature. When Perrotta cracks wise, it’s usually not about people but outside attempts at structure such as Promise Keepers rallies and Hot Christian Sex, the book that Tim and his godly-but-game wife dispassionately work through. In those moments, is Perrotta brilliant at lasering in on emotional detail; his heroes crave order, but they’re forever plotting their escapes. Perrotta discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.