Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"My Education," by Susan Choi

I truly disliked Susan Choi’s novel “My Education” (Viking, 2013). I understand that one shouldn’t have to like a novel’s characters to appreciate the novel, but it certainly influences me as a reader if I dislike the two main characters, and I did dislike these characters. Most of the action takes place when the main character and narrator, Regina, starts a graduate writing program at a campus that sounds like Cornell, although it is not named. She is immediately attracted to a famous writing professor, Nicholas, while sleeping with her roommate Dutra, with whom she has a sort of comradely relationship. But as soon as she meets Nicholas’ wife Martha, also a professor, she begins an off-the-charts intense sexual and romantic relationship with her. Much passion, intrigue, secrecy, and drama ensues. There is much egoism, much self-indulgence. There is also, I might note, an enormous amount of out-of-control drinking. I don’t want to give away more of the plot, except to say that the second half of the story happens about 15 years later, when much has changed in the lives of all four major characters. A new set of interactions ensues, and a reasonably satisfying -- if somewhat hurried and hard to completely believe -- resolution takes place. Regina, the most unlikeable character, becomes slightly more likeable at the end, as does Martha, the other unlikeable character (to me, at least). Nicholas and Dutra are no prizes either, but seem to have more sensitivity, more thoughtfulness than the other two. Aside from the likeability issue, the novel is well written and has its good points, but I had to force myself to keep reading it to the end. When I was partway into this novel, I remembered that I had tried to read Choi’s earlier novel, “American Woman,” a twist on a Patty Hearst type character and situation, and I couldn’t get very far into that book; I abandoned it after a few chapters. So for whatever reason, apparently Choi’s novels and my tastes do not match up well. However, I freely acknowledge that I can see why other readers might like her work.

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