My Education, Susan Choi, Viking, 2013, 296 pp
Susan Choi's new novel will be known as that steamy book about an affair between two women. Steamy it is, but that is only a part of its allure. The sex writing is extremely good but that is because Susan Choi can write as well as, if not better than, anyone writing novels today.
This book is a campus novel, a love story, a domestic tale, and features male characters who are as deeply complex as the two main female characters. I am trying to sound like a calm and composed reviewer but the truth is I loved this book with as much youthful and ill-advised passion as 20-year-old Regina loved 32-year-old Martha.
Who did not confuse lust with love at that age? Who did not love extravagantly and hopelessly from a position of self-involvement and narcissism? Who at the age of 20 could ever understand that the object of her affection just might have a couple other things going on in his/her life beside oneself? And who did not grieve as self-destructively as possible for a ridiculous amount of time, but in the end, live to love again?
Oh, you never did? I pity you.
Regina is a grad student in literature. Martha is a literature professor, as is her husband. Martha is also a cyclonic force of a person, a free spirit, and about as self-involved as a wife/mother/professional woman can be. The affair between them, beginning on the night of a disastrous dinner party Martha fails to pull off, goes on for much of the book. The collapse of Martha's marriage, the child custody battles, and finally the end of the affair are all seen through Regina's eyes.
And that is perfect because in the latter part of the book, when Regina has grown up, become a wife and mother and author herself, the reader gets to see Regina looking back from an older and wiser perspective. I loved that part also because the more mature Regina is still who she was: a passionate, loyal, one hundred percent type of woman.
A word about Susan Choi's sentences: amazing. But that is such an overused word. On any given page you can find at least a couple examples of these creations that reel out with thought, emotion, description, time shifts, and yet you never get lost, the rhythm never falters, and she gives you the complete picture. Oddly, as I attempted to pick a few examples, I realized that they all fit so seamlessly into the story, each one moving it along, that by themselves they are just long sentences. Either you will have to take my word for it or read the book yourself.
Any writer, well except maybe Hemingway, would be fascinated to the point of wanting a course in Susan Choi's sentences complete with writing exercises. I think I will just make up my own.
Ms Choi will be visiting my city during her book tour. I will be there in the audience to see if I can ascertain how she can have written the excellent A Person of Interest and then have turned around to take a love story into such exciting territory.
(My Education is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)