Turn it down!

Every year there are certain releases that are either so ill-conceived or utterly disappointing that they deserve a special mention. Here’s our list of what totally missed the mark in 2007.

Raine Maida — The Hunter’s Lullaby (Nettwerk): Dear Raine Maida, I can empathize with your desire to “do something different” on your first solo record. I mean, does the world really need another nasally, middle-of-the-road, alt-rock rehash? But seriously, this collection of beat-poetry and spoken word-inspired songs is just a little bit worse. Also, if you’re going to profess a personal connection to the late Syd Barrett, at least spell his name right in the liner notes.

Matthew Good — Hospital Music (Universal): A whole album of whiney acoustic ballads is bad, bad medicine. Hospital Music makes me long for the days of his cookie cutter (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, quiet chorus, build-up, loud chorus, outro) anthemic alt-rock songs. Welcome to your self-prophesized status as a has-been.

Bloc Party — A Weekend in the City (Vice): After showing loads of potential on their fabulous debut, Silent Alarm (Some were saying they could be the next Radiohead—in fact, Radiohead turned out to be the next Radiohead… weird) Bloc Party chose to cut their irresistible urgent energy on this sappy and flaccid follow-up. Aside from “Hunting For Witches,” this album should have never left Kele Okereke’s bedroom.

The Killers — Sawdust (Island): The biggest transgression on The Killers’ latest moneymaker is their glossy cover of Joy Division’s classic track “Shadowplay.” If only they had applied the simple WWICD (What Would Ian Curtis Do?) principle they would have known to leave this gem alone. At least now we can see The Killers for what they really are: the McDonald’s of diluted indie rock.

Sebastian Bach — Angel Down (MRV): This nuclassic- metal offering is proof that there is a place worse than Skid Row.

Hedley — Famous Last Words (Universal): Let’s hope they take this album title seriously.

Ted Nugent — Love Grenade (Eagle Records): To really understand the quality of this recording, let’s examine some lyrics from the title track: “I crave you so bad, it drives me insane, if I don’t have you I’ll die / I am a dangerous weapon baby, I’m your machinegun man / Don’t make me shoot you down baby, I just wanna be your love grenade / I’m comin in, love grenade, pull the pin, love grenade / Look out below, love grenade, I’m about to blow.” And blow he does.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — Some Loud Thunder (V2): Talk about squandered potential. After exploding onto the indie scene in 2005, CYHSY followed up their solid debut with this hookless snooze-fest. If someone tries to make you listen to Some Loud Thunder, shake your head, say no.

Korn — Untitled (EMI): Do I really have to tell you that this record really sucked? Well, it did.

The Higher — On Fire (Epitaph): R’n’B and Emo need to stay the fuck away from each other forever. Period.

It’s Not Rocket Science – Episode 5

Another day at the office

Except in this case, the office is a giant, futuristic research facility. This collection of pictures showcases some of the incredible structures built for research purposes, including the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico that makes a cameo in the James Bond film Goldeneye. I bet working at these cool places makes Mondays that much easier.

Link: tinyurl.com/2seo3s

We’re not the only ones doing it (the world’s oldest profession just got older)

According to a recent study of long-tailed macaques in Indonesia published in Animal Behavior, they engage in what can be construed as prostitution. Male monkeys were observed grooming females in exchange for sex, getting twice the action on average compared to males who didn’t groom females. When there were more females available, the amount of time spent grooming decreased, suggesting a supply and demand relationship. Oddly enough, I don’t get the same results when I offer to groom the women I meet.

Link: tinyurl.com/22oz2j

The coast is toast

Global warming is a familiar—and pressing—concern. Perhaps equally important is considering the effects of excess nitrogen input on aquatic ecosystems, a topic that has received little attention in the mainstream media. Fertilizer run-off from agricultural operations is the number one source of this nitrogen, but the dumping of untreated human waste and certain industrial processes also contribute to the problem. Once the excess nitrogen is washed into the ocean by streams and rivers, runaway growth by phytoplankton (algae) depletes the available oxygen, resulting in the death of fish and other marine life. Eventually, large “dead zones” with little biological activity are formed, such as in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River drains into the ocean. Recent research by the World Resources Institute brings very bad news: out of 415 identified affected zones, only 13 are recovering. I propose a ban on vegetables—that should reduce fertilizer run-off and make kids happy the world over.

Link: tinyurl.com/yux6ff

The magic of stardust

NASA scientists have decided to take fairy tales seriously and look into stardust. After chasing down a comet and collecting samples of the dust blowing off its core, the Stardust spacecraft returned to Earth in January 2006. The samples it brought back have given researchers a good look into the past of our solar system, as the comet is thought to have formed 4.57 billion years ago along with our Sun and the planets. No word yet if such findings allow individuals to fly or make wishes come true. Link: tinyurl.com/yuysx7

Probably endorsed by Mike Huckabee

The New Christian Science Textbook. Thankfully, it’s not real…yet.

Link: tinyurl.com/yre6qp

Switchgrass may put corn out of a job

The first results from a large-scale trial using switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) to produce ethanol biofuel are extremely promising. Already, scientists are claiming that using switchgrass-derived ethanol can cut carbon dioxide emissions by 94 per cent compared to an equal volume of oil. As well, the team led by Ken Vogel of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service in Lincoln, Nebraska determined that switchgrass delivers 540 per cent more energy than is required to grow, maintain, and process it into ethanol. The U.S. Department of Energy seems to be onboard with biofuel, planning to build six biorefineries by 2010. Although not a solution to the growing climate change crisis, biofuels are a step in the right direction, allowing the developed world to wean itself off petroleum-based energy sources. The downside is the loss of food production from the fertile land used to grow biofuel crops. One per cent of the world’s fields (12 million hectares) is already being used for this purpose. Expect this issue to be a contentious one in the near future. Corn has already filed suit for wrongful dismissal and lost wages.

Link: tinyurl.com/2t4gtj

From the excessive technology files

Because a television set ain’t nothin’ unless it can be seen from space, Panasonic unveiled a 150-inch plasma TV at the recent Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Boasting four times the resolution of the best flatscreen sets currently on the market, this beast features almost nine million pixels. I am envisioning playing Halo 3 on this television and drooling…a lot.

Link: tinyurl.com/yocrw3

These guys are real jerks

Even the insect world has do-nothing free-loaders. Alcon blue butterflies (Maculinea alcon) have evolved a unique method of ensuring that they get fed in their larval stage: they mimic the odour of young ants. Worker ants mistake the caterpillars for ants from their own brood and take them back to their ant colony where they are fed and taken care of. The caterpillars, to add insult to injury, eat some of the young ants they are surrounded by. Researchers working in Denmark determined that they caterpillars use scent molecules to accomplish the con job. The closer the caterpillar’s scents are to the ants own, the quicker they are picked up and taken back to an ant colony. The race goes not to the swift and strong, but to the clever cheaters in this case.

Link: tinyurl.com/39o8ym

NFL Playoff Preview

Jacksonville at New England

The question that has been repeated ad nauseam all season: can the Patriots be beat? While an answer is coming soon, cracks in the Pats’ armour have been exposed. A narrow win against the Ravens in week 13, and a record-setting game against the Giants in week 16 both showed that with a strong defensive effort and solid offensive production, a disciplined team could destroy New England’s flawless streak. The problem is that Jacksonville does not look to be that kind of team. Surrendering an 18-point lead against the Steelers in the wildcard matchup is an obvious red flag, especially against the explosive and seemingly unstoppable New England passing game. The silver lining here is David Garrard’s ability to make plays on the run and a potent, two-dimensional ground attack featuring Maurice Jones-Drew and the unexpectedly productive Fred Taylor. Expect the Patriots to load up the box and blitz the run, limiting the yards the Jaguars will get on the ground. Considering Jacksonville’s anemic passing game, the Jaguars face an uphill battle—and this hill is more like a mountain. This one is a no brainer: pick New England.

  • Pick: New England
  • Bet: The farm

San Diego at Indianapolis

The last time the Colts and the Chargers met, Peyton Manning threw an uncharacteristic six interceptions and Adam Vinatieri was certainly not his usual self. However, don’t expect Sunday’s game to be a repeat of that week 10 matchup. The Colts were missing many playmakers due to injury, but all of them, with the exception of Dwight Freeney, are expected to play on Sunday. Though Indianapolis will miss Freeney’s presence, Robert Mathis and Josh Thomas should be able to step up. Like any good defence, the Colts will be looking to stop LaDainian Tomlinson from getting anywhere with the football. Bob Sanders will be a huge threat, especially when he’s the eighth man in the box, playing more like a linebacker than a safety. Containing Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne will prove to be a tough task for the relatively young San Diego defence. But the Colts will need to look out for Chargers defensive back Antonio Cromartie, who led the league in interceptions, three of those coming against Indianapolis in week 10. Philip Rivers will need to take command, especially when it comes to managing the play clock. Due to a sprained toe, Antonio Gates will likely be a game-time decision. If he does sit out on Sunday, San Diego will lose their best receiver. Last time, the Chargers’ special teams were critical in the win over the Colts. However, this time around that may not be enough to stop the defending Superbowl XLI champions.

  • Pick: Indianapolis
  • Bet: The profits from Peyton Manning’s commercials

New York at Dallas

How about them Cowboys? Tony Romo and company had a banner year and their post-season looks to have legs. Against the unreliable Eli Manning, Romo has the upper hand in this quarterback matchup. To be fair, Eli has silenced some of his critics with an exceptional game against New England, and a solid, mistake-free game against the much underrated Buccaneers. Their last meeting in week one was a shootout and all indications show that this game will feature some similarly high scores before it’s over. Terrell Owens is debatable due to a sprained ankle, and Plexico Burress’ tough physical play will be a key asset for the Giants. Jason Witten’s soft hands and ability to find open turf have been utilized well by Romo all season, so expect some game-breaking plays from this young tight end. The running games on both teams compare favorably. Brandon Jacobs’ size advantage over Marion Barber shouldn’t factor in too heavily thanks to the solid play of the Dallas line backers, ranked sixth against the run in the regular season. Provided Jessica Simpson doesn’t show up to pose a distraction to her boyfriend, Tony Romo, Dallas should get the win.

  • Pick: Dallas
  • Bet: This month’s beer money

Seattle at Green Bay

Matt Hasselbeck’s famous last words outline the Seahawks’ ideology best: they want the ball and they’re going to score. Look for the Seattle offense to spread out the Packers defense with multiple wide receiver formations, and then use the draw play to pick up a lot of yards on the ground. Unfortunately for Seattle, Green Bay defensive back Al Harris isn’t afraid of getting physical at the line of scrimmage, which could prove detrimental for the Seahawks’ pass-heavy offense. AJ Hawk and Nick Barnett will be instrumental in stopping the runs, forcing Hasselbeck to throw when he doesn’t want to. Naturally, the Green Bay offense will look to the always impressive Brett Favre to lead them to victory. But Seattle Pro-bowlers Julian Peterson and Patrick Kerney will be ready to sack Favre at every opportunity. The Green Bay offensive line will need to be on their A-game, maintaining the pocket long enough to let Favre do what he does best. To lessen some of the pressure on their veteran quarterback, Green Bay will need rookie running back Ryan Grant to step up and out-run the fast Seattle defence. If the Packers can hold it together like they have all season, they should be able to come away from this close matchup with a win.

  • Pick: Green Bay
  • Bet: A Cheesehead hat

Paying back the sandman

With the spend-happy attitude surrounding the recent holiday season, the arrival of financial strain and buyer’s remorse has arrived for many. As personal collections of plastic cards were processed faster than gifts could be wrapped and financial balances monitored, most students were oblivious to a new form of debt they quickly racked up: sleep debt.

A student’s daily sleep requirement averages between seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Skipping it results in an accumulation of sleep debt, or lost sleep. Sleeping only six hours a night earns us one to three hours of sleep debt. Repeat that for a week and it grows into seven to 21 hours of lost shut-eye that has to be reclaimed.

With North American culture demanding extended work and social schedules, allotting time for snoozing seems self-indulgent when those extra hours could be used for completing more work. Stepping away from the books and paying closer attention to your needs, however, will have your body thanking you through improved concentration, motor skills, and overall mood and motivation.

Even with the benefits associated with obtaining enough sleep, most students, according to the Journal of College Student Development, ignore the need to doze. Often, they are unaware of its influence on academic, social, and emotional problems.

Ignoring the problem will not eliminate it because of the unusual way sleep debt functions. Unlike financial payments, there is no way to save up on sleep to pay something that may be accumulated later. Establishing good habits is the only way to prevent it.

The first step for students who have accumulated a large sleep debt is to reduce it. For many, the weekend is a good time to catch up.

Counsillors Christopher Hurst and Ling Ling Hui host Counselling and Learning Skills Services’ “Sleepless in Toronto” workshops to help sleepdeprived students, suggest obtaining two days of unrestricted sleep on a weekend as an effective way to reducing sleep debt.

Establishing and maintaining regular sleep and wake times, even on weekends, can help to regulate the biological clock. Setting a routine conditions the body to expect sleep and wakefulness. Getting the same amount of sleep every night becomes easier if the body knows that those hours are designated for it.

Some additional tips to obtaining quality sleep include exercising regularly (although avoid it within three hours of sleepytime) and to have limited naps of 15 to 20 minutes early in the day to avoid disrupting nighttime rest. As well, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals before sleeping is a good idea.

Taking proper measures to ensure a good night’s dreams, and erasing sleep debt as soon as warning signs present themselves, is the key to maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Although sleep may not be on most student to-do lists, staying in bed a few more hours may be the solution students are looking for by obtaining a quality sleep to gain a quality performance.

To sleep is human—to sleep in, divine.

Prof jailed in Iran returns to U of T

In April 2006, while passing through Iran en route to a Belgian conference, U of T professor Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo was arrested, blindfolded and carried off to Tehran’s Evin prison. For the next 125 days, the Iranian-Canadian Jahanbegloo was confined to Evin’s Ward 209, frequently used for detaining political prisoners. Other than the three brief visits from his wife, he was held in solitary confinement.

Today, Jahanbegloo is busy teaching two courses and settling into an office at the university’s Centre of Ethics, a stark contrast to the two-by-three-metre cell that held him 18 months ago.

“My first reaction was like any normal human being. It was half fear and half astonishment as well as the uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen to me.”

He was never charged with a crime or allowed to speak to a lawyer.

“I had to create my own rhythm of life by reading anything I could get my hands on, doing exercises, fighting against depression, and somehow trying to build my confidence and hope for the future,” explained Jahanbegloo.

During the first 40 days of his imprisonment, Jahanbegloo was only allowed two blankets to sleep on, no reading material, and was blindfolded whenever he left his cell for showers or bathroom breaks.

During interrogations, Jahanbegloo discovered that he was suspected of spying for foreign powers and inciting a “soft revolution” against the Iranian regime. the Calgary Herald reported speculations that the suspicions stemmed from an article Jahanbegloo wrote criticizing Iran for denying the Holocaust. Jahanbegloo, however, said that his mere participation in intellectual life was held up as evidence of treason.

“They were telling me that the fact that I had been going to conferences was somehow spying and working against the security of the Iranian state. I never thought going to a conference was spying. I never wanted to spy for anybody, but yes, I had been to conferences and meeting with Canadians and Americans,” said Jahanbegloo.

After over four months in prison, Jahanbegloo was told family members had reached a “bail agreement” with the intelligence ministry, and he was released. His Iranian and Canadian passports, confiscated by the Iranian Revolutionary Court, were never returned.

Since the release, Jahanbegloo has published a book based on notes he wrote on scraps of cardboard in jail, and lectured all over the world, but has not returned to Iran.

“Now that I’m back at U of T, I’m really happy. I’m looking forward to going back to teaching and seeing my students.”

Jahanbegloo teaches two poli sci courses at U of T. Next year, he will offer a new course, Politics and Non-violence.

Though he said he believes his arrest was fueled by his academic work, Jahanbegloo vowed not to censor himself, adding that his experiences as a political detainee have most definitely influenced his work and outlook.

“I will continue with my work of dissidence as a philosopher. I think that my days in prison have given me a new view of humanity and also of ethics and what can be ethical in the 21st century,” he said.

Listen Up!

The big story of 2007 was the escalation of a number of trends that have been brewing in the underground for quite some time. Indie electro—which fuses rockist aggression with 80s synths and dance beats—continued to rise in popularity, making flirtatious advances on the mainstream by way of cell phone ads featuring Justice and Digitalism plus a massively hyped world tour by Daft Punk back in the summer. Independent record labels also flourished, keeping executives at the majors nervously wondering how far the music business paradigm could shift without cutting them out of the process completely. Radiohead’s split with label EMI/Parlophone and subsequent DIY, pay-what-you-want online distribution experiment highlighted the sea change which is currently underway. And amongst all this indie rock managed to hold its own, offering up some of the best work yet from veterans The National and Kevin Drew as well as splendid debuts from newcomers like Miracle Fortress, Fjord Rowboat, and Black Kids.

1. Radiohead – In Rainbows (Independent/XL)

The band’s best work since 2000’s Kid A, In Rainbows made headlines back in October for its unpredictable musicality and for its novel online release scheme, which allowed buyers to set their own price for the album’s 10 tracks. From the spastic, snare-heavy opener “15 Step” to the haunting comedown closer “Video Tape,” In Rainbows shows no shortage of creative accessibility— something especially evident on the album’s standout single “Jigsaw Falling into Place” and the downbeat gem “All I Need.” The best albums are perfect soundtracks to the season they are released in, and fall 2007 was all In Rainbows.

2. Justice – † (Ed Banger)

No band was more hyped in 2007 than French electro duo Justice. The masterminds behind the ubiquitous remix single “We Are Your Friends” dropped their first full-length album † back in June on Parisian label Ed Banger. Featuring massive, dirty synth riffs and killer club-influenced production, it’s no surprise that rockers and ravers alike spent the summer freaking out to tracks like “D.A.N.C.E.,” “DVNO,” and “Let There Be Light.” Justice also takes home the prize for Best Musical Iconography, planting a telltale Christian cross front and centre on the album’s artwork and at their live shows. They should expect a lawsuit from Jesus Christ as soon as he gets back.

3. The National – Boxer (Beggars Banquet)

After 2005’s Alligator propelled this NYC quintet from indie obscurity to “buzz watch” status, scene watchers knew their next album would make or break these sensitive rockers. When Boxer dropped in late May the response was virtually unanimous—The National had arrived. Singer Mark Berninger’s unique lyrical style—he comes off like a cross between Ian Curtis, Morrissey, and Bruce Springsteen—proved to be one of the album’s strongest elements pushing songs like “Start a War” and “Brainy” into the realm of bona fide genius. Also worthy of praise is drummer Bryan Devendorf, whose creative beats naturally rise to the top on “Squalor Victoria” and the exquisitely arranged “Fake Empire.” Other songs that helped make Boxer a real contender for indie-classic status include the single “Mistaken For Strangers” and “Guest Room.”

4. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver (DFA)

Sound of Silver is a one-man electro tour de force. Here, James Murphy shies away from populist dirty synth sounds to concentrate on building banging rhythms from the ground up. From the energetic opener “Get Innocuous” to the chilling electro-ballad (yes, these exist now) “Someone Great,” which is heavily steeped in 80s angst, to the tongue-in-cheek “North American Scum,” Sound of Silver has cemented Murphy’s reputation as one of the best indie-dance producers around. It now goes without saying that Daft Punk will one day actually play at his house.

5. The Tough Alliance – New Waves (Summer Lovers Unlimited)

This Swedish duo combined tropical rhythms with surging synthesizers to create one of the summer’s best singles “Silly Crimes.” Backed by “Mine Was Real” and “25 Years and Running,” New Waves makes for picture-perfect beach music, and features my favourite album artwork of 2007. Keep an eye on these guys to do something big in 2008.

6. M.I.A. – Kala (XL)

After wowing the world with her spunky debut Arular back in 2005, M.I.A. (her real name’s Mathangi Arulpragasam) returned in August with a more focused and better produced offering, Kala. Drawing on elements of grime, dancehall, and electro, M.I.A.’s agitprop lyrics and creative use of samples for percussion (cash registers and gunshots on the album’s best track “Paper Planes”) received rave reviews while drawing attention to political issues like immigration and the relationship between the first and third worlds.

7. Chromeo – Fancy Footwork (Vice)

A modern-day Hall and Oates? It’s too soon to tell. But right now this Montreal duo is red hot and on the path to achieving a sexy and cheeky form of world domination. Drawing on the best of 80s funk pop and the current trends in electro, Chromeo makes songs that are funny and packed with air-tight beats and hooks. If the title track, “Tenderoni,” and “Bonafide Lovin’” don’t make you want to get up and dance, then you probably hate dancing and are no fun at parties.

8. Miracle Fortress – Five Roses (Secret City)

While losing Canada’s Polaris Prize to label-mates Patrick Watson might have been an injustice, listening to Miracle Fortress’s enthralling melodies, perfect harmonies and pristine, Brian Wilson-style production on Five Roses makes me believe that they’re not the bitter, angry, jealous or vengeful types. With shimmering guitars and dreamlike songwriting, Miracle Fortress were easily one of the best musical surprises of 2007.

9. Fjord Rowboat – Saved The Compliments For Morning (Independent)

Reviving shoegazer, a short-lived and under-appreciated genre of Brit-rock, Toronto’s Fjord Rowboat deliver a solid album of extremely well-crafted songs. Drenched in reverb, these boys practice fantastic melody making, but frontman Craig Gloster and bassist Ian MacKay keep things dark enough to pass muster with even the most dour anglophile hipsters. Saved The Compliments For Morning is a great listen from start to finish and features standout tracks “Taking the Pass” and “Carried Away.” Watch for a new EP from Fjord Rowboat to drop sometime this year.

10. We Are Wolves – Total Magique (Dare To Care)

Montreal trio We Are Wolves brings brass balls to electro rock. Singing in both French and English, WAW layer garage bass lines over dance beats, distorted vocals, and analog synths to create a pulsating, dirty, energetic sound. Anyone who thinks electro is for wusses should listen to “Psychic Kids,” “Magique,” or “Fight and Kiss” off Total Magique—these guys kill.

Honourable Mention The Postage Stamps – This Ugly Arrangement, Kevin Drew – Spirit If…, Digitalism – Idealism

Time to CA$H in

University of Toronto commerce students are bracing for this Saturday’s Battle for CA$H competition, sponsored by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario.

There, 39 teams of undergraduate business students selected by student societies from 18 universities across the province will aim to out-fox each other for rewards that include impressing future employers, and also a respectable pile of money.

Evgenia Volodarski, one of this year’s competitors, was also involved in last year’s competition, in which U of T excelled in technical aspects, but lost out in peer judging of their ethics.

“Maybe we were a bit big-headed,” she allowed, promising to be “more humble” this year and “win with decorum and class.”

Team spirit is strong among the first-year students of St. George’s highly competitive commerce program. Andrew Lenjosek, a commerce freshman, said he hopes to beat competing schools to “keep up the U of T pride.”

Beyond bragging rights, prizes include major resumé material, according to competitors.

“I’m really looking forward to representing University of Toronto, the amazing networking opportunities, and the chance to meet other students from their respective universities,” said Belinda Chiu, a junior ambassador for the Accounting Society of U of T.

“It is a great way for students in all years to not only develop their teamwork and interpersonal skills, but also […] a chance to interact with leaders in the accounting industry—notably experienced representatives from the Big Four accounting firms,” added Chiu’s teammate, Boyan Zhao.

All teams will aim to beat last year’s CA$H champs—UTSC—for the $3,000 first place prize and the additional $1,000 that goes to the winning university’s accounting club.

According to Bessie Qu, a second-year commerce student involved in several committees of ASUT and the Commerce Student Association, CA$H allows U of T students to see how they measure up against students from other universities, especially in skills not taught in the classroom.

The competition, which will take place at ICAO’s offices in Toronto this Saturday, will focus not just on arithmetic, but also problemsolving, teamwork, and strategizing.

“All the math skills in the world cannot help without these competencies,” said Perry Jensen, of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario. “[CA$H] is also a chance for major employers to talk about what they are looking for and a chance to win money. And who doesn’t love money?”

Abstinence goes all the way

There is something more than cheeky about a Tom Perotta novel. Although marketed as popular fiction with a big screen adaptation around the bend, they also play host to a mean literary streak. This doesn’t destabilize his output; rather, it makes Perotta exciting and slightly unpredictable. He’s got what you might call authorial moxie.

In previous novels like Election or the terrific Little Children, Perotta demonstrated his knack for blurring the line between adult and child, moral and immoral, grim and funny. He lays out plot and characters so intelligently and sensitively, we navigate his perfect world the way his suburban protagonists cruise their leafy-green neighborhoods in shiny SUVs. This is part of what distinguishes Perotta as a marvelously vigilant writer, but his hand appears maddeningly in the frame. Sometimes, things are too pristine, as if he couldn’t quite let go. The Abstinence Teacher does not differ in this regard, but feels more liberated, partially because the shifting character perspectives work better than they did in Little Children.

At the hub of The Abstinence Teacher is lonely sex-ed teacher Ruth, your liberal-minded, intimacy- promotin’ divorced mother of two. Add one addiction-recovering Born Again named Tim, a regressive new high school curriculum, and what do you get? Ethical hijinks with a light dusting of sexual tension. In spite of this formulaic pop rock of a setup, Abstinence works because the refreshing way in which the “odd couple” cliché is dismantled: it never explodes, but rather keeps simmering to the very last page. Perotta revels in writing about middle-class educated suburbanites with a piece missing from the existential puzzle—he draws it so well—the language, the school politics, the soccer matches. When I finished the book, it was hard to believe I was Canadian, not some Midwestern sap. Perotta handles the so-called “adult world” like a slightly more forgiving John Cheever. He lays the hypocrisy down on the table for all to see, but never tortures his characters for their flaws. All of the villains, like Joann Marlow—perky-breasted advocate of an ABSTINENCE ONLY, CHILDREN! sex-ed program, are viewed in a generous light, ridiculous, rather than nefarious.

Where Perotta shines is in his ability to write children. They are adults without the double-dealing; ingenuous but also cynical. Through the eyes of their floundering parents, they are both sources of delight—as in the way Tim views his daughter, and the team of girls he coaches and objects of mystery and pain, such as Ruth’s response to her teenage daughter’s desire to “want to know Jesus.” Maybe it’s not a stylistic or thematically subtle book, but what it does, it does effectively.