Monday, November 26, 2007

Perrotta's new book, The Abstinence Teacher, will be great on the big screen. For now it's just a mediocre book.
Bookman Beattie read the US edition of the October issue of Esquire over the weekend, (thanks Deb), and there were several book reviews that caught his eye. This is one of them:

The movies have been very, very good to Tom Perrotta. His novel Election went unpublished until Alexander Payne adapted it into a film. The adaptation of Little Children garnered Perrotta an Oscar nomination. And his latest satire, The Abstinence Teacher (St. Martin's Press, $25), is set for a 2008 release. What a movie it will be: Divorced suburban mother of two fights the Tabernacle crazies who have taken over her school.

The problem is that while Perrotta's novels may make for good movies, they don't make for very good books. The Abstinence Teacher is not very good for many of the same reasons that Little Children disappointed. The characters are a collection of easy sociological cues: Rich people live in McMansions, evangelical Christians dress badly. This is a world where women indicate sexual interest by donning sweaters with plunging necklines. And yet Perrotta remains that rarest of creatures, a genuinely successful literary novelist. His books sell, and critics often hold him as an heir to Cheever and Updike -- a comparison that is unfair to all involved.
I'd argue instead that Tom Perrotta is engaged in a more complicated and paradoxical project, one well suited to a postliterary age. He's writing books for people who don't much like books -- satires for nice people, fuck books for prudes. The problem with this approach is that it's not really satire at all. It's situational comedy. Perrotta's not gunning for laughs so much as light chuckles, perfect for a compassionate and confident grin. But less good for readers who'd be better served checking out David Gates or Stephen Dixon or simply giving up on books altogether and going to the movies.
Here is the second review:
The Illustrated Ronald Reagan
An Esquire editor and a seven-year-old review the new graphic biography of Ronald Reagan. Needless to say, the kid's got some questions about Iran-Contra.
By Tyler Cabot

There's no room for analysis in the stripped-down visuals and dialogue of Ronald Reagan: A Graphic Biography (Hill and Wang, $17), by Andrew Helfer. It's a life told in tiny pictures. We see Reagan run for governor, then president. His former national-security advisor attempts suicide, the Berlin Wall comes down. It's an abbreviated narrative, for sure. But it's also as compelling as it is serious and objective. There's no pretense, postulating, or setting up. Just the essential plot points. Just the story.

And from the 7 year old:
I didn't know that Ronald Reagan existed before I read this book. I learned that Ronald Reagan at first was a boy without hope. Then he started going to church. At the beginning, I couldn't follow who the main character was. But the pictures were good. The most interesting thing was that he got shot and survived. The writer really should tell us where he got shot, in what part of the body. I wanted to know. I think Ronald Reagan was a good man, except when he traded 21 guns for a hostage. And at the end of the book he had a nasty expression on his face, so I didn't think he was up to any good. -- Zeke Warren-Weigmann, age 7

And the third, and is this the shortest book review you have ever read?

Tomorrow by Graham Swift - sixteen word review

Mother agonises over kids.Bad Oprah? No. Think good Wonder Years reruns - nostalgic yet compulsively compelling.

Enough, I like Esquire.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Hi Bookman,

I totally agree re Perrotta's books being not as good as the movies made from them -- especially Little Children! I guess I won't be running out to buy Abstinence Teacher if the movie is coming out next year ;-)

I did read another book with sex education in the public schools as the main story line which I'd like to recommend to you. It's "The Sex Ed Chronicles" a first novel by Stuart Nachbar. I found it thought-provoking and entertaining, too.
There are many parallels seen between the 1980 setting of the book and today -- conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, economic worries, rising gas prices, sex education and student free press rights.

Check it out when you have time.