‘The Abstinence Teacher’

BOOK REVIEW: Sex and religion clash in a proxy fight for all the conflict and contradiction of life in the modern American suburb.


“This is my business,” Ruth said. “Your coach has no right to make you pray to a God you don’t believe in.”

Eliza snickered. “You mean a God you don’t believe in.”

“That’s right. I don’t believe in Coach Tim’s God, and I don’t think your sister does, either.” Ruth turned to Maggie, suddenly worried that Eliza knew something she didn’t. “You don’t, do you?”

“I dunno,” said Maggie. “Nobody ever taught me about it.”

“Well, I do,” Eliza said. “I believe in Coach Tim’s God.”

“No, you don’t,” Ruth snapped.

“Do you think I’m an idiot?” Eliza shot back. There was a whitehead at the corner of her left nostril that Ruth had to restrain herself from popping.

“No,” Ruth assured her. “And I don’t think you’re a born-again, fundamentalist, evangelical, nutjob Christian, either. Because that’s what he is.”

“I believe in God.” Eliza spoke slowly and calmly, locking eyes with her mother. “And I believe that Jesus is His only son, and that He died on the cross for my sins.”

Maggie was staring at her sister, clearly startled by this news. Ruth’s immediate impulse was to try to convince herself that Eliza wasn’t serious, that she was just crying out for attention, but it didn’t work. There was something in her face and voice—the eerie serenity of the believer—that couldn’t be denied.